Choke - 13 WTHR Indianapolis

Choke

Choke

David Swindle

D+

Back in my high school days circa 1998 to 2002 there was one author that tended to reign supreme: Chuck Palahniuk.
 
When "Fight Club," based off of Palahniuk's first novel, was released in 1999 it smacked my generation in the face and became a cult classic. Almost everyone seemed to like "Fight Club," whether they were the pretty social butterflies, the popular jocks, or the more outsider kids.
 
This provoked teenagers who never read to pick up the novel upon which the popular film was based. If there was ever a book and an author ideal for teenagers it was Palahniuk and Fight Club. Short chapters, minimalist prose, off-the-wall subject matter, and an angst-ridden rebel protagonist, make it one of the most accessible books one can read.
 
Fight Club wasn't Palahniuk's only novel, though. At the height of the movie's initial popularity there were two other books already available. Survivor told the story of Tender Branson, the last remaining member of a notorious cult whose members were instructed to commit suicide. Invisible Monsters focuses on the bizarre adventures of a mutilated former supermodel and her transsexual friend Brandy Alexander.
 
Choke was the first Palahniuk novel to come out post-"Fight Club." It kept the signature stylistic devices and produced more laughs than any of his other books but I was ultimately disappointed. It's the last Palahniuk book I would've wanted to see as a film.
 
"Choke" goes all over the place with Victor Mancini (Greg Rockwell,) its protagonist. Victor is a med-school dropout and sex-addict. Those who remember the nameless narrator's support group meetings from "Fight Club" will recognize the sexual addiction meetings that Victor attends. He mainly goes to cruise, though, meeting up with other addicts and then sneaking off to commit deviant sex acts in the restroom.
 
Victor works as a "historical interpreter" with his fellow sex-addict friend Denny (Brad William Henke) at a colonial theme park. This demeaning job doesn't provide him with enough money to support his dying mother Ida (Anjelica Huston) in an expensive nursing home. So Victor makes ends meet as a con artist. He goes to expensive restaurants and then intentionally chokes on food so that someone in the restaurant can save his life. These events cause the person to develop a sense of responsibility for Victor, leading them to support him financially.
 
Central to the film is the psychologically damaging relationship between Victor and his mother. Her mind has deteriorated to the point that she usually mistakes Victor for someone else when he visits her. The film is also interspersed with flashbacks to Victor's childhood. Victor spent his time bouncing between foster homes with his mother usually kidnapping him at some point and taking him for cross-country trips where the two would commit crimes.
 
Complicating the situation even more is Dr. Paige Marshall (Kelly Macdonald,) the new doctor treating Ida. Victor has slept with almost every woman that works at his mother's nursing home but Paige is somehow different. She's interested in him and cares about his mother. It's not just about meaningless sex.
 
Oh, and as if there aren't already enough themes in play there's also the question of Victor's father and the shocking possibility that this con artist sex freak might be the second coming.
 
The film has all of the book's problems but not its saving grace: the laughs. The film maybe only produced about two or three chuckles. For the most part I was bored. The acting had a flat tone to it with the scenes between Victor and Paige failing the most. Only the frequent sex scenes managed to rouse me from a coma in a movie that should be able to entertain on its subject matter alone.
 
One of the film's problems is one of the book's principle ones: the way it goes in different directions with its plots and thematic elements. There are the choking con schemes, the sex addict stuff, the colonial theme park, the relationship between Victor and Paige, the relationship between Victor and his mother, the weird son of God stuff, and the flashback material of Victor as a child. You've seriously got seven movies here, each with the potential for greatness. But when they're all just thrown into a blender you just get this bland, incoherent mess. It's almost reminiscent of the effect of Spike Lee's unsuccessful sexual satire "She Hate Me" with its half dozen half-baked ideas.
 
The failure of "Choke" should be put behind us, though, and instead we should look in anticipation at future Palahniuk novels that would adapt much more easily to cinema. After the success of "Fight Club" there were plans for a version of Survivor however after 9/11 the project died. (A plane hijacking is the device that frames the book's narrative.) Hopefully it might someday find new life as time passes.
 
Invisible Monsters would make for a great film, especially if they get the right actress to play the mutilated supermodel protagonist. Of Palahniuk's more recent work, following Choke he decided to experiment with more horror-based novels. Lullaby, a story about a man who discovers a poem capable of killing people by simply being thought or read toward them, could be adapted easily. Diary, Palahniuk's sixth book, is also in the horror genre and, according to the author, has been optioned and is in some form of pre-production.
 
One shouldn't hold their breath for an adaptation of Palahniuk's ninth book that came out this spring. Snuff chronicles the making of a pornographic film in which a woman has sex with 600 men. It's told from the perspective of the participants standing in line. It's probably not going to be the easiest film to greenlight but if "Fight Club" and "Choke" got made, then who knows?

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