Review by Jack Foley
It’s been nine years since David Fincher turned Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club into one of the great movie translations.
Choke marks the long overdue second translation of one of Palahniuk’s books and while it’s never less than enjoyable, it falls some way short of achieving the classic status of Fincher’s masterpiece.
On the plus side, director and screenwriter Clark Gregg has plenty to play around with thematically, while his film boasts another typically charismatic performance from leading man Sam Rockwell.
But an uneven tone and a slightly less appealing central story make it an inferior work that may struggle to find a really wide audience.
Victor Mancini (Rockwell) is a sex addict and conman (he pretends to choke on his food to get a free meal in restaurants!) who works by day as a historical re-enactor.
Struggling to find any meaning to his life, Victor is suddenly given hope when his dying mother (Angelica Huston) promises to reveal the identity of the father he never knew. But extracting the information proves harder than it seems.
Given that Choke marks Gregg’s first film as director, he was always going to have his work cut out condensing the dense layers of the book’s text into a trim 90-odd minutes. That he makes a decent stab at it proves he’s clearly a talent to watch.
But Palahniuk fans may rue the director’s decision to opt for a generally lighter tone, while some of their best-loved characters might feel a little, well, anaemic.
Huston and Rockwell could have used more screen-time together to really help audiences understand his abandonment issues, while Brad William Henke’s serial masturbator and comedy sidekick Denny also deserves more screen-time. Kelly Macdonald’s potential love interest similarly lacks the kind of screen-time needed to ground her with any real substance.
The comedic and often outrageous nature of the story ensures, though, that audiences won’t tire of finding out what happens next, while Rockwell’s confident central performance skilfully prevents the more unsavoury elements of Victor’s character from dragging him, or the film, down.
But no matter how guilty the pleasure in finding out just how depraved and/or mixed up things can get, the decision to place too much emphasis on the comedy eventually deprives the film of any lasting poignancy. And given the nature of the tragedy that unfolds, you can’t help but feel this was a missed opportunity.
Choke remains worth seeing for Rockwell’s performance alone, but the film itself looks destined for nothing more than minor cult appeal when it could have been so much more.
Running time: 92mins
UK DVD Release: March 23, 2009
- Buy it on DVD (Amazon)
- Read our review
- Chuck Palahniuk interview
- View our Choke photo gallery