Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

"Despite the busy plotwork, surprisingly little actually happens."

The spectre of Fight Club looms large like the ghost of Palahniuk past over this indie comedy adapted from the work of the same cult author. This is rather a shame since Clark Gregg's directorial debut has much more modest ambitions than David Fincher's satirical and edgy slice of life and pales in comparison.

Although touching on similar themes – notions of being an outsider, attendance of self-help groups – Gregg's focus is firmly on the interaction of his characters, rather than trying to establish any sort of echoes about the state of the nation as Fincher did. If you can set aside the urge to compare the two, then you will appreciate the gentler appeals of Choke a lot more.

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The ever-watchable Sam Rockwell, who always seems to be on the verge of a taking a part in a film which becomes box office gold but never quite manages it, plays med school dropout Victor. By day he works alongside his best pal Denny (Brad William Henke) as a bit-part player in a historical 18th Century re-enacment, while at night he runs a choking scam in restaurants.

His scheme involves pretending to choke in order to be saved by random strangers. These unwitting victims become so attached to him that he is later able to milk them for cash ("Somebody saves your life, they'll love you forever"). It's a nice little earner that has only one goal – to raise a steady stream of money to keep his dementia-stricken mum (Anjelica Huston) in hospital, while he tries to find out the truth about the identity of his father.

This description barely touches base with a plot that also includes self-help groups for sex addicts (where most of them do, indeed, seem to be helping themselves… to one another) and a doctor (Kelly Macdonald) who has come up with a distinctly unorthodox cure for his mother that also involves rumpy-pumpy, not to mention the fact that mum Ida thinks Victor is not her son but a family lawyer called Fred.

Despite all this busy plotwork, however, surprisingly little actually happens. Episodes in the hospital come and go, as do flashbacks from Victor's childhood and incidents at the re-enactment park, but what may well work on the page, never quite hangs together properly as a film. This is not to say that Choke is devoid of merit. Rockwell is on form as Victor and Anjelica is, not for the first time lately, a suitably dotty old dear but the characters are simply too flat to be truly memorable. There are some nice black comedy moments and the indie romance aspect is successful to a point but, when taken as a whole, Gregg bites off more than he can chew.

Reviewed on: 21 Nov 2008
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A sex-addicted med school dropout pays his mum's hopital bills by running a restaurant scam... but with her memory fading fast, will he ever find out the truth about his dad?
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Director: Clark Gregg

Writer: Clark Gregg, based on the novel by Chuck Palahniuk

Starring: Sam Rockwell, Anjelica Huston, Kelly MacDonald, Brad Henk

Year: 2008

Runtime: 89 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: US

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