The prudish and easily offended take heed – Clark Gregg’s adaptation of Chuck Palahniuk’s novel Choke is not a trip to the cinema for the kids. Sam Rockwell is Victor Mancini, a sex addict stuck on step four of his recovery and more likely to be found slaking his lust in the public toilet with a fellow addict than sitting through group therapy.
By day, Victor is an 18th century, Irish indentured servant at a historical theme park, by night he is duping unsuspecting diners at restaurants all over town to break out their best Heimlich maneuvers and rescue him from choking on his food. When these good Samaritans save Victor, he makes them into heroes, giving them a purpose in life while simultaneously filling his pockets with the money they send him out of sympathy and attachment.
Victor’s money goes to housing Ida, his dementia-afflicted mother played by the scene-stealing Anjelica Huston. Ida is tended to by Dr. Paige Marshall, played by Kelly Macdonald, a detached yet earnest young physician who develops romantic feelings for Victor. Victor, along with his best friend Denny, a chronic masturbator and fellow theme park employee played by Brad William Henke, attempts to extract the identity of his biological father from Ida before she slips into a state of dementia from which she cannot return.
Choke’s casting directors deserve praise for finding actors who were able to capture the tone of Palahniuk’s writing. Rockwell seemed born to play Mancini, effortlessly delivering each line of tactless dialogue with just enough heart to make you root for his successful reform. Huston’s Ida Mancini is a pitiable, sick woman who continually fails to recognise her own son. The film succeeds in presenting Victor’s back-story as a plausible catalyst for his present-day lifestyle. However, there are several plotlines which call for the total suspension of the viewer’s disbelief including the initial, far-fetched suggestion of the identity of Victor’s father.
The film’s twist in the final stretch is unexpected, but it does not pack the same punch delivered by Tyler Durden in the successful adaptation of another of Palahniuk’s novels – Fight Club. Choke is not a life-changing piece of cinema but it is diverting in that it allows the viewer to put their own struggles aside for ninety-minutes and explore Victor’s depraved world.