Choke

Posted: September 26, 2008

A darkly comic tale about a sex addict, starring the nimble Sam Rockwell, based on a novel by Chuck (Fight Club) Palahniuk, with the sublime Kelly Macdonald in a doctor's lab coat and the wily Anjelica Huston as a dementia-stricken matriarch - how can that go wrong?

But while Choke, adapted for the screen and directed by Clark Gregg, is by no means a disaster, it is disappointing - and oddly dull. Maybe it's the arch narrative voice-over, with Rockwell's Victor Mancini bowdlerizing chunks of the novel. Perhaps it's the pace, which doesn't seem urgent enough for all the desperate goings-on.

And they are desperate: Victor is so compulsively in need of attention that he fakes getting his esophagus stuffed in restaurants, just so someone will notice and Heimlich him back to respiratory calm. His meetings at a sexaholics anonymous support group are notable mostly for the wild sex he has out in the hall - baring his privates while his fellow addicts bare their souls.

Choke's depiction of the petty politics at Victor's workplace - a colonial Williamsburg-like theme park ("I'm not a tour guide, I'm a historical interpreter," he insists) is amusing. And Huston, confined to a hospital ward for most of the film, is scary and funny, often at the same time.

But Choke is too low-key for its own good, and neither Rockwell nor Macdonald - though their scenes together are nicely weird - seems able to find the right psychic momentum to move this thing along the way it needs to be. - Steven Rea

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