Once in a while you find an underrated gem of a film starring one of your favorite actors. As a Sam Rockwell fan, this just isn’t one of them. I toyed with the idea of writing this post since this movie nearly bored me to tears. However you can’t be a film fan and just write about good movie, right? So we are where we are and as a Sam Rockwell fan I still think he’s an incredible actor. Further my opinion of him hasn’t changed even after sitting thorough this less than flattering film.
In Choke Sam Rockwell plays Victor Mancini, con-artist/sex addict, and while it seems funny enough for someone like Rockwell to portray an odd-ball role this, it is quite boring. The story begins with Victor explaining his character and it is strikingly similar to Edward Norton in Fight Club, right down to the inner monologue and narrative style. That seemed like a good thing since this is an adaptation of a novel by Chuck Palahniuk who wrote Fight Club. Interesting…or so I thought.
Victor is a “Historical Interpreter” (or Tour Guide) at a local Colonial theme park. There he and his friend portray historical common folk who were the “backbone of Colonial America” (or Irish indentured servants) and they do their half -hearted job much to the chagrin of those who take the reenactment seriously. But that’s just his day job. The rest of the time Victor is a con-artist, but he’s a con-artist with a heart of gold. He fakes choking incidents at restaurants and then later hits up his saviors for money. Sleazy, no? Well, no is accurate since he uses the money to pay for the monthly expenses to keep his Altzheimer-afflicted mother in the expensive home. Biding his time there he only thinks of sex and money. His one and only friend is similarly a sex-addict and the two are very nearly George and Lenny from Of Mice and Men (I’m sure that makes John Milton proud).
Their characters are not only pitiful, but like everyone else in the movie also poorly written save for a barely salvageable turn from Victor’s mother played by Angelica Huston. She, shown through flashbacks, is why Victor became a Medical School dropout and three time loser. As Rockwell was just barely carrying the movie, I was expecting more from Houston. The movie goes nowhere and one of the lagging plot devices includes, but isn’t limited to, an off the wall plot where Victor is the clone of Jesus Christ (trust me, I’m not making this up). I won’t even go into Victor’s Internet dating even though it is oddly funny.
Since this is an adaptation of his book I have to say I sort of like where Palahniuk was probably going. While some ideas make for scenes that seem to work well on their own, this doesn’t add up to a cohesive story and it’s all vaguely amusing at best. Over all the composition of the movie is independent feeling in nature and bland throughout. Not that that always creates a lackluster product but it didn’t prove to win any hearts with this effort. Choke paints Victor’s life as being very unenviable but the story suffers about as much as he does but do the visuals have to suffer as well? Hell Juno was a pretty basic story but the writing was witty and characters/visuals were pleasing to say the least.
Using the Netflix Rating system I wouldn’t say I “hated” this movie but I did find little to marvel at. As an increasing fan of Rockwell this is a very quirky and lesser known movie that lets his style shine although I’ve seen him do much better work. Choke took a while to get going but Rockwell’s charisma does carry this all (laboriously I might add) to the finish. Lastly, this may have been a hit at Sundance, winning the Special Jury Prize in 2008, but it wasn’t in my house.