Posted by: ianstrope | July 1, 2009

Newish Release: Choke

2008| Director and Writer: Clark Gregg (Agent Phil Coulson of S.H.I.E.L.D.)

It was damn near 10 years ago that a young college freshman looking forward to studying medicine took a Friday night off and went to the movies. The movie was “Fight Club” from Director David Fincher. It was dark and funny and offbeat and everything that an 18-year-old hopelessly hopeless kid wants from his entertainment. It was also based on a book from an up-and-coming author Chuck Palahniuk. Flash-forward to September 12th 2001, where said “kid” is on a bus trip in a newly confused and frightened United States of America with Radiohead’s “O.K. Computer” and Palahniuk’s newest book “Choke” as the only thing to keep his mind at ease.

Needless to say the kid was me and when I got to school after that bus ride my brief flirtation with a career in medicine was over.

Now, years later, “Choke” is a movie staring the ever likable/unlikable Sam Rockwell (“Confessions of a Dangerous Mind,” “Matchstick Men”) as protagonist Victor Mancini. We learn that, as a child, Victor was taken by his crazy mother and spent most of his childhood on the road and on the run. As such he never learned to feel love. Now a loser approaching middle age, Victor’s plight is that he is a sex addict. The sex angle is really the gimmick of “Choke,” an offbeat comedy–or beat-off comedy if you will.

Between the crazy road-trips with Mommy and the sex addiction, Victor also aspired to study medicine, but like so many others, didn’t quite make it. He uses his mother–and specifically the cost of her treatment in a mental care facility, where her years of reckless drug abuse are quickly bringing her to the twilight of her life–as an excuse for never having completed med school and moved on with his life. So Victor and his friend and fellow sex addict Denny (a fan of Mastodon) waste their time working at some 17th Century historical theme park.

Many of the modern comedies by people like Judd Apatow and Jody Hill deal with an emotionally stunted man/boy getting into hijinks and screwing around, literally as well as figuratively. Usually the result is the delight of an audience who must suspend their disbelief of the contrivances of the plot as well as their own sense of good judgment. This is fine in a comedy and in this sense “Choke” is no different. There are brief moments of seriousness that some might read as pretense but the film does not linger on or belabor these parts in any sort of way that bothers me.

In terms of execution the film is appropriately rough in its look and simplistic shooting style. It was shot by director of photography Tim Orr, who has worked with David Gordon Green and Jody Hill on most of their past projects, and as such it has a similar look. In terms of performances, Rockwell does what he does best by playing a creep, and Angelica Huston (“Ice Pirates,” “The Royal Tenenbaums”) is also good in the sort-of-dual role as a crazy kidnapping mother and older dementia-ridden mental patient. The film has some moments that some might find disturbing, but in this it is on the level of something like Trainspotting. At 92 minutes it is the sort of movie that shouldn’t kill your entire evening, though I don’t recommend it as a date movie.


Three stars  of Five Stars


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