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Choke Lives Up To It’s Name

March 15, 2009

What’s wrong with this picture? A film based on a novel by Chuck Palahniuk, the author of Fight Club (arguably one of the 20 best films released in the past ten years), can’t even gross $3 million domestically? You’d think that just attaching “from the author of Fight Club” on the poster would be enough to put the uneducated asses in the seats. I use the word “uneducated” because I think anyone that is familiar with Palahniuk’s work is going to fall into one of two categories: biased fanatic or biased hater. I never read Fight Club, but I’ve read three of Palahniuk’s other novels (Choke included), and they’ve all left a sour taste in my mouth. His writing style has an air of pretension that’s hard to overlook, the stories are ridiculously absurd, and his characters are unlikeable and morally retarded. I realize that’s often what he’s going for, and sometimes that formula can be engaging, but Palahniuk’s stories often come across heartless, and sometimes we just need somebody to root for. Choke was the first of his books I read and it’s easy to trick yourself into thinking you’ve stumbled across someone with a unique and clever voice, but his novels are kind of like Fight Club: you’re getting punched in the face repeatedly, yet sometimes you act like you enjoy it.

With that said, this is a review of the film, not the author’s collection of works… but I think it’s important to understand how I feel about the source material, since I clearly didn’t like the story and I was expecting disaster as soon as I saw the trailer. The movie version is a pretty faithful adaptation of the book and some of the scenes and characters are so sexually indecent that I’m sure this had to be pushing an NC-17 rating and it’s hard R-rating had to factor in keeping it from playing in a lot of theaters. The story is about Victor Mancini (Sam Rockwell), a sex addict who chokes on food in restaurants during his spare time in the hopes that his rescuer will feel responsible for his life and send him loads of money over time. Victor also regularly visits his mother (Anjelica Huston) in the hospital and we get flashbacks in his upbringing that help explain why Victor became the adult he is today. Yawn.

At least the acting in the film is decent, as Rockwell and Huston are both capable thespians. They do what they can with their characters, but neither invoke sympathy in the viewer. It’s hard to fault the actors, however, when the characters are clearly written to be completely amoral. I’m already tired of bashing this movie, so I’ll end by saying that I kind of hated it even though it lived up to my expectations. I’m sure anyone that can admit they are a fan of the novel will probably like the film as well… but don’t go into this thing blind, expecting Fight Club caliber.

Score: 3 out of 10 (Painful)

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