Starring: Sam Rockwell, Kelly MacDonald, Anjelica Huston
Directed by: Clark Gregg (debut)
Written by: Clark Gregg (“What Lies Beneath”)
Think of the more racy scenes and dialogue in David Fincher’s “Fight Club,” (i.e. Helena Bonham Carter pronouncing that she hasn’t “been fucked like that since grade school”) and you’ll get an idea of where “Choke” is coming from.
Adapted from the warped psyche of Chuck Palahnuik, the same author who introduced us to Tyler Duran and “Jack’s smirking revenge,” “Choke” tells the story of medical school dropout and sex addict Victor Mancini (Sam Rockwell), a historic interpreter at a Colonial theme park, who has far more problems in his life than imagining every female topless that he sees (including nuns).
His mother Ida (Anjelica Huston), is not winning her battle with Alzheimer’s and doesn’t know who Victor is when he sporadically visits her at the expensive mental hospital he has arranged for her to stay. Now, don’t be fooled into thinking that by tossing on a coat and cravat and pretending to be from the 18th century he can afford mommy’s private health care. Instead, Victor, who spends most of his free time with fellow sex addict Denny (Brad William Henke), performs an elaborate scheme to earn extra money to pay for his mother’s fancy living arrangements.
His scam: While dining in upscale restaurants, he makes himself choke by lodging a piece of food toward the back of his throat. He then proceeds to stumble around looking for a well-to-do sucker who will save him. By doing this, Victor creates a lifelong bond with his “savior” and later dupes the do-gooder out of cash by creating a sob story about his depressing life.
Yes, Victor is an asshole and he knows it. He also doesn’t apologize for it, even when he seems to want to change for the better. When he meets Paige Marshall (Kelly MacDonald), a lovely young nurse working at his mother’s rest home, there is a sign that Victor could kill us with kindness. You shouldn’t hold your breath, however.
While “Choke” plays out like a perverse fantasy from almost every angle, the comedic exchanges and dialogue are so well-crafted that a human element actually rears its head from its darkest corners. It starts with Rockwell’s performance as the potential son of Christ (his mother’s diary explains the whole insane story), a twist in the script that pushes “Choke” from distasteful to blasphemous. Rockwell, however vulgar he can get, manages to make us sympathize with his whorish character, which isn’t an easy task.
If you are easily offended, a compassionate reaction probably won’t happen and “Choke” definitely isn’t something you’d enjoy. But if you can find sweetness in even the sourest of fruits, you should let Palahnuik corrupt your mind for at least a couple of dysfunctional hours.