The Austin Chronicle


Rated R, 89 min. Directed by Clark Gregg. Starring Sam Rockwell, Anjelica Huston, Kelly Macdonald, Brad William Henke, Clark Gregg, Paz de la Huerta.

REVIEWED By Kimberley Jones, Fri., Sept. 26, 2008

I see a lot of movies. Some of them stick in the brain; a lot of them don’t. I mention this because I turned my house upside down trying to find the notes I scribbled a few weeks ago while watching Choke, a forgettable adaptation of Chuck Palahniuk’s 2001 novel. I never found the notes, but I did find a paperback of the novel, a reissue with “Now a Major Motion Picture” stamped on the cover. It’s not exactly false advertising: Veteran character actor and first-time writer/director Gregg (The New Adventures of Old Christine) did in fact make a motion picture out of the book, and I suppose the amount of manpower, money, and migraine attendant to any production amounts to something major. But Choke marks a very minor major. Rockwell plays Victor Mancini, a man of many hats, all of them off-putting. He’s a sex addict who goes to a recovery group mostly to score fresh meat; a medical-school dropout who pays the bills as a Colonial America re-enactor, with a sideline scam as a choking victim in restaurants; and an unloved, oft-abandoned son who's trying to lay the cute doctor (Macdonald) attending his Alzheimer's-addled mother (Huston). Mancini’s character boils down to a lot of self-loathing and unresolved mommy issues – which is as tedious as it sounds – and the film, shot by Tim Orr with the wanness of a porno flick, is only half as blackly comic as it should be (check out George Saunders’ novella CivilWarLand in Bad Decline for a far funnier rendering of the re-enactor’s plight). There are bright spots – the bearlike Henke as Victor’s best friend, a chronic masturbator with a sunny disposition, and the terrific Macdonald (No Country for Old Men), a native Scot who rather adorably mouths an American dialect like a Midwestern honors kid with a speech impediment. And I didn’t need my notes to remember that.

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