Choke (2008)

2010 #27
Clark Gregg | 88 mins | TV | 18 / R

ChokeChoke is adapted from a novel by Chuck Palahniuk, the author of Fight Club, and you can tell.

I’ve not read Choke, but I have read Fight Club, and the film was an incredibly close adaptation both in terms of the narrative style and the dialogue’s voice. Here, the distinctive narratorial ‘voice’ is very reminiscent of Fight Club, both book and film, as are numerous other elements: support groups; random encounters; the inclusion of a Big Twist. While an awareness of the author means the latter feels a little formulaic, Shyamalan-style, at least it seems Palahniuk can still pull them off.

The sum of all this is Choke feels like it exists in Fight Club’s shadow; a low-budget adaptation of another of an author’s works after one has been a high-profile success. This is a little unfair to Choke — despite the surface similarities, the meat of the film is in no way an attempt at Fight Club 2 — but the similar feeling and tone it frequently exudes can leave that impression.

It’s also not as funny as the trailer led me to believe. It definitely has moments — several proper laugh-out-loud ones too — but it lacks consistency. The tale is sometimes muddled in what it wants to be and how it wants to cover it. Some very serious issues are touched on, and while they’re not treated lightly (it occasionally nudges at being a dramedy) the comedic tone rubs against them. It isn’t vulgar in the way some comedies are when exploiting serious issues for ‘laughs’, but nor is it conclusive in its own style. Having not read the novel, I don’t know if we need to lay the blame for this at the door of Palahniuk or screenwriter/director Clark Gregg.

The cast are without fault. Sam Rockwell is brilliant as ever, continuing to build a body of work that suggests he’s been underrated. Perhaps there’s a similarity to some of his roles, but he has a sort of rough likability that can make one overlook that. I’ve still not seen Moon (shame on me, I know) but one hopes it might provide a launch pad to wider recognition, even if he ultimately failed to gain any major award noms for it. Also in the cast are Anjelica Huston, in an interesting and constantly evolving part, and Kelly Macdonald, who it’s always nice to see even if her American accent is variable.

Choke has its moments — quite a few of them, actually — but it feels like it’s perhaps missing a few others, with what’s left not quite gelling into the whole its cast and crew hoped for. It doesn’t go far enough down the quotable/zany route to become properly cultish (I may be proved wrong in this of course), nor does it come far enough down the meaningful-undercurrent path to transcend such underground aims. I think I want to like it a bit more than I actually did, and awareness of this may make my mark a tad stingy. I’d certainly encourage anyone who thinks Choke might be up their street to give it a go.

3 out of 5