October 2, 2008

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Choke (R)
A sex-addicted med-school dropout looks for love in the wrong places (e.g. his sex addicts anonymous group, random strangers who save him from choking at restaurants) in Choke, a grim mess of a movie based on the Chuck Palahniuk novel.

Victor (Sam Rockwell) is breaking new ground in the “having a sucky life” department. He dropped out of medical school to pay the threatening nuns running the long-term care facility housing his Alzheimer’s-having mother (Anjelica Huston). He’s attempting to face his sex addiction, but probably shtupping the woman he’s supposed to be sponsoring will prevent that from happening. When he’s not making himself feel better by having meaningless sex he’s making people love him by getting them to save him from choking at restaurants — he picks high-end restaurants in hopes that his rescuers will feel a connection to him and start doling out cash. And then there’s his job; he plays an indentured servant in a Colonial-Williamsburg-ish town ruled by an aristocratic character who Victor and his friend Denny (Brad William Henke) call Lord High Charlie (Clark Gregg). Charlie delights in tormenting Victor and Denny whenever they show up with anachronistic items like a newspaper.

Victor’s problems, in a lot of ways, come from his mom, who has never been terribly sane and spent his childhood kidnapping him back from his various foster families. Part of his attention to her care and his desire to keep her alive comes from his hope that before she dies he can find out about his (hopefully normal) father. Unfortunately, his mother isn’t doing well and the only hope might be in an experimental procedure suggested by Paige Marshall (Kelly Macdonald), one that requires Victor to impregnate her. Only, of course, this man who has spent his adult life having sex with every woman he meets can’t seem to complete the task with the willing and pretty Paige.

Within this basic plot are a dozen little subplots — a ruse to help Victor’s mom recognize him, a romance between Denny and an exotic dancer, a series of flash-backs to Victor’s childhood, a romance between Lord High Charlie and a “milkmaid” and others. Choke doesn’t seem to be able to quite resolve any one facet of Charlie’s screwed-up-ness so it piles on the wacky traits. When one part of the story seems to slow down we get another crazy character or zany situation to keep things going. It’s kind of like adding icing and decorations to a cake so no one will notice that it’s uneven and crumbling. Choke has too many pieces put together too sloppily. Too many of the movie’s scenes feel like distraction from previous parts of the movie that weren’t working out.

This over-accessorizing of the plot is particularly noticeable at the end, where in about 10 minutes everything wraps up with an emotionality that feels false. Choke is promising setup with lackluster follow-through. C-

Rated R for strong sexual content, nudity and language. Written and directed by Clark Gregg (from a novel of the same name by Chuck Palahniuk), Choke is an hour and 32 minutes long and is distributed in wide release by Fox Searchlight.