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Rental Unit: “Choke”

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Novels by author Chuck Palahniuk are extremely popular. “Fight Club,” for a while the sole film adaptation of a Palahniuk novel, was extremely popular. Why not more movies based on his novels?

“Choke,” the second film based on one, provides many clues. As much as “Fight Club” proved how inventive and entertaining adapting Palahniuk's often threateningly twisted and lurid writing could be, “Choke” proves how easily these traits can whip a movie version into a frothy but confusing muddle.

The story (in the movie) is easy to relate, but difficult to make sense of. Victor (Sam Rockwell) narrates his life story: sex addiction as an adult, which may or may not have anything to do with his life on the road as a child with a weird mom, Ida (Anjelica Huston). When not reimagining his sexual conquests, Victor now takes care of mom at a nursing home while trying to make ends meet as a tour guide and wooing the institution's physician (Kelly MacDonald) out of her lab coat.

Without help from the book, sorting the myriad difficulties in Victor's life is a challenge in itself, making sense of them an exercise in frustration. We never fully understand why, for instance, mom and boy were on the run, or why Victor is a sex addict (late we are shown he had a mile-high-club experience), or, far worse, what the point is even if we did know. That Victor is believed to be the holy great-great-grand-something of Christ sneaks up on the movie and scares it half to death.

“Choke” feels like writer and director Clark Gregg eventually did the same trying to manage so many ideas. His direction of Rockwell is clumsy, as was the choice to pair him with the likeable but far too large Brad William Henke, playing a completely disposable best friend, Denny. Both say “dude” way too often to help us care about sex addiction, child neglect, the second coming or anything else this movie is really supposed to be about. Tyler Durden would have pummeled them on principle. (R) 92 min. HHIII  S

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