Choke is only the second Chuck Palahniuk book to be adapted into a feature film. The first, of course, was 1999’s magnificent FIGHT CLUB. Needless to say, CHOKE did not spark the same intensity, or provide the same social commentary as its predecessor. There are several reasons for its shortcomings and the film managed to either fail completely or come short in just about every aspect of filmmaking, creating a very disappointing adaptation for a quality book.
Sam Rockwell is Victor Mancini, a hapless sex-addict working as an “actor” in a colonial reenactment park. He makes extra money by choking himself in fancy restaurants and then taking money from the rich people that save him. Victor is running the scam in order to make the money necessary to pay the hospital bills for his mother, who is suffering from an advanced case of Alzheimer’s and doesn’t even know who he is. Despite that, he visits her regularly and that’s where he meets Paige Marshall (Kelly Macdonald), a beautiful doctor that manages to connect to Victor when no one else can.
Much like FIGHT CLUB was more than a movie about guys fighting, CHOKE is much deeper than just a man addicted to sex. Unfortunately, we never really realize that in the film. So much time is focused on the sex addiction and the unscrupulous acts Victor commits, we lose sight of who he is and the bigger statements the film has to make on society and people. Director Clark Gregg seemed too focused on the surface of the story and never gave Victor any sort of depth that the audience could relate to. Believe it or not, most of us can’t relate to a sex-addict that likes to choke himself in fancy restaurants. A character as despicable as Victor needed some sort of redemption that the audience could hang their hat on.
The whole third act was rushed to a point that the “twist” and wrap-up are barely addressed. It felt like they were trying really hard to be faithful to the book, right up until the third act. They either needed to cut certain elements or make a longer film because as it was, there were too many questions that needed to be answered. Why was his friend building a house? What happened to Paige? Did he learn anything from his addiction? Did he learn anything at all? The list goes on, but the film felt like a movie without an ending. Imagine if the third act of FIGHT CLUB was cut by twenty minutes.
The frustrating thing about the film is that I really enjoyed it to a point. I enjoyed Sam Rockwell and his portrayal of Victor, but the filmmakers didn’t utilize him to his fullest. The ending was disappointing and the film failed to answer the questions it raised early on. Palahniuk’s books deserve more attention to detail and when adapting his work, filmmakers can’t allow themselves to get wrapped up in the surface of the characters without exploring their deeper motivations.