You know the stories – the guy in the emergency room with the hamster/light bulb/champagne bottle stuck in his rectum, the lady with the peanut butter and a hungry dog… But have you ever heard the one about the sex obsessed guy who may be the illegitimate offspring of Christ?
Sam Rockwell stars as med school dropout and sex addict Victor Mancini in actor Clark Gregg’s directorial debut Choke. Victor spends his days working at a colonial theme park, acting as a “historical interpreter” while he hits on the milk maids and wastes time with his chronically masturbating, scene stealing buddy Denny (the hilarious Brad William Henke).
Due to the expense of keeping his mother Ida (Anjelica Huston) in a pricy psychiatric hospital, Victor makes additional income by choking at restaurants, allowing himself to be saved by unwitting diners. As Victor explains it, these people feel indebted to him, sending cards and cash to help the poor bastard out.
Through flashbacks, we learn of Ida’s unorthodox method of child rearing, which consists of kidnapping young Victor from foster families in order to teach him such life-saving lessons as the hidden meanings of announcements at department stores.
When Ida’s condition takes a turn for the worse, she lets it slip that there’s a secret concerning Victor’s origin. Victor employs help from his mother’s new doctor – and his new sexual conquest – Paige Marshall (Kelly Macdonald) to find the truth about his origin. And that’s where the story goes off the deep end, incorporating the theft of a sacred artifact from the Vatican and a secret insemination program.
Rockwell’s portrayal of the dry witted dirt-bag is spot-on – despite his despicable nature, you still like the son of a bitch. Of course, he’s no stranger to the character type – see Confessions of a Dangerous Mind for proof.
Being that the source material for Choke is a story by cult novelist Chuck Palahniuk, viewers are bound to be obsessively critical. Fear not – the film follows the original story fairly well, although it’s naturally been boiled down to fit an hour and a half of screen time. While the story plays well overall within the confines of a relatively short run-time, the ending comes off as a bit rushed.
Several points are skimmed over passively to save time, leaving us with some unanswered questions and seemingly random jumps in plot.
Whereas David Fincher applied a highly stylish look to Palahniuk’s Fight Club, Clark Gregg had to make due on a paltry indie budget for Choke. While most directors would view this as a massive hurdle, Gregg plays it to his advantage, creating a sense of realism with average – if not seriously damaged – people in uncanny situations. The drab sets (the psychiatric hospital, community centers and Mancini’s run-down home) and down-to-earth characters make it work, grounding us in reality while the story travels well outside the realm.
Choke recently took the Sundance Film Festival’s Special Jury Prize, so it seems that Gregg beat the mountain of odds stack against him. It’s a fun, dark comedy that retains the ridiculous voice of Palahniuk throughout, resulting in a bizarre – but occasionally (and oddly) endearing – film that’s ripe with intriguingly hilarious twists and turns.