Film Reviews

Choke Clark Gregg

Rating - 5/10

I am a Gigantic Palahniuk Fan: The man sent me a stuffed panda, and a signed two page letter with autographed photo sit hanging above the desk where I write this, so let's get one thing straight from the start: My problem with Choke isn't that Choke Is Not Fight Club.

My problem with Choke is the following:

Going from Fight Club to Choke isn't merely a case of recognizing that the material is being approached by two entirely different teams of artists with two entirely different sets of budget constraints. Instead, it's as if after the unparalleled success of Batman, Warner Bros. had gone to the director and said, "Great job, Timothy, now do it again, but this time with sock puppets and bus fare. Oh, and could you leave that whole thing about him being a man who dresses in a bat suit out? Thanks."

I recognize Fight Club was a huge risk for 20th Century Fox, and though that particular film ultimately lucked out in securing itself as one of Those Movies You Introduce Your Retarded Friends To In Middle School, studios aren't usually wanting to risk the shareholder happiness on the likelihood that you'll pick Their Movie in your quest to prove to the girl in 8th grade art class who dresses in all black that you are Deep Enough to Make Out With. Thusly, Choke was picked up for 5 million at Sundance (as opposed to Fight Club's hojillion dollar production budget), and we're off to the races.

The movie opens with a very familiar tone. We're in a support group, for sex addicts this time, with a man who is obviously our main character as he narrates over the proceedings. Cut between this and random flashbacks as he nails all the sex addicts. All those who say Palahniuk is a one-trick pony, you are proven correct here, but it's a good trick, so shut your faces.

Right off the bat, you get the sense that something is terribly wrong with this movie, especially if you've seen Fight Club (and of course you've seen Fight Club, because like, who hasn't totally seen Fight Club? Who hasn't totally seen Fight Club nine times?). At this point, I should be in a welcome, familiar place; in love with this film, but I am not. Why? Because unlike Fight Club, which actually had a sense of style and cinematography that held a gun to your skull and dared you, double DOG dared you not to love it, Choke suffers from that most unfortunate side effect of modern film technology coming down in price: Indie Film Cinematography. That is to say, Choke is flat. Nothing pops. People look at each other. They talk. Sometimes they're having sex. A lot of the time they're talking about having sex, or joking about having sex, or having cute little inner monologues about having sex while pseudo-indie-but-not-really-because-they're-signed-to-a-thor-sized-label-music plays in the background.

But nothing, and I do mean N-O-T-H-I-N-G in the entire running time of Choke makes you say, "Oh yeah, this guy, THIS guy, he went to four years of film school for THAT!"

The other problem with Choke is that it might as well forget the novel even existed. For those who care, the novel is about a middle aged sex addict who keeps his dying mother in a pricey nursing home by pretending to choke on food in expensive restaurants and letting the wealthy diners around him save his life. After that, they usually bond enough to send money every now and again. Rinse and repeat until he can afford the monthly payments. Then there's a subplot where the protagonist's father may not be his actual father, and he may actually be the son of Jesus Christ.

Now, if you're 20th Century Fox, how do you even begin to market something like that? Fight Club was marketed wrong when they went for the kung fu vibe because its core story of aimless youth being fed up with their lives was such an obvious sell. But who do you try to target with a 2 minute trailer for Choke? Sex addicts? Alzheimers patients? Nyet and nyet again, I say.

Fight Club
launched Palahniuk to new heights because it was a universally appealing story to anyone who has ever wondered What In The Hell It Is All For. The only built in audience for a Choke movie are those who already read and enjoyed the novel. When a writer/director (that most hateful of beasts) takes the source material, removes the moment in said novel when the protagonist gets called on his crap and thus has a moment of clarity/transformation but still wastes the audience's time planting all the clues leading up to that moment, the result is one big resounding "zuh?!"

There's a reason 20th Century Fox held a bunch of free to the public, pre-release test screenings for this film. It's almost as if Clark Gregg knew the only people who were going to care about his movie were going to be broke college students full of apathy, majoring in useless degrees ranging from "women's studies" to "undergraduate psychology" to "anything from Full Sail," and after coming to the painful realization that nothing he could come up with would remedy the problems inherent with the idea of turning a Palahniuk novel into a quirky romantic comedy, he decided to remove a key plot point out of spite, cite artistic license in interviews like it's a blank check, and call it a day.

It's a shame, because Sam Rockwell and Anjelica Huston give very strong performances, and in the last 20 minutes of the film, Choke decided it wants me to take the proceedings Very Seriously; and it is here that the potential comes out at the Last Possible Second for what could have been a touching but bitter story of a man cutting the cord 20 years too late only to find love with another, younger crazy woman who didn't give birth to him.

Too little too late, and my only consolation is that I was able to catch one of Fox's many free screenings. Palahniuk, in the meantime, can take heart in that this is only the second worst adaptation of his work to hit the market to date, the first being the abysmal Fight Club video game, wherein Fred Durst From Limp Bizkit is an unlockable character.