The Daily Californian Online

Comedy 'Choke' Not Meant for Contemplation

By Nick Moore
Contributing Writer
Thursday, September 18, 2008
Category: Arts & Entertainment > Film & Television

BRO HUG. Brad William Henke (left) plays Denny alongside Sam Rockwell's (right) Victor in sex-addiction film 'Choke.'

Like previous offerings from "Fight Club" author Chuck Palahniuk, "Choke" follows a self-loathing protagonist operating under severe delusions. The audience is kept in the dark until the end, resulting in a comically baffling story with myriad shocks, secretions and, most commonly, laughs.

"Choke" is not a linear story as much as it is an exploration of the scarred psyche of sex addict and small-time con Victor Mancini. The opening scene places Victor in an AA-type gathering of recovering sex addicts, and he spends much of the film bathed in the dim light of strip clubs, public bathrooms and the other settings of his sordid sexual exploits. But if the surrounding light is dim, it only enhances actor Sam Rockwell's star power. As perpetually disheveled Victor, Rockwell exudes undeniable sexiness and vicious charm. He's the best kind of protagonist: the kind you hate to love because he defies the traditional leading-man role. Victor faces a number of problems, namely his inabilities to both begin the fourth step in his recovery program and also pay for his mother's stay in an expensive mental hospital. Victor augments his "historical interpreter" income (he works as a colonial re-enactor at a Williamsburg-like living history museum) with the generosity of Heimlich-maneuvering former saviors, an assorted collection of wealthy good samaritans who have saved Vincent from his well-honed choking act and never refuse his requests for money.

Despite his compulsion to have sex with complete strangers, Victor finds it a physical impossibility to bang the one woman to whom he is genuinely attracted, Dr. Paige Marshall (played by the angelic Kelly MacDonald). Their exchanges are marked by close-ups and awkwardly well-written conversations, transmitting an emotional depth that's lacking in Victor's other relationships.

Rockwell's constant presence is invariably a pleasure, but it stifles the character development of the remaining cast members. Beyond MacDonald's portrayal of Paige, closer looks reveal the rest to be largely one-dimensional caricatures of typical comedic staples.

Brad William Henke plays Denny, Vincent's dimwitted sidekick and a chronic masturbator, who lights up the first half of the film but bores by its halfway point. Anjelica Huston, as Victor's severely demented mental ward-patient mother, provides little more than frustration, though her role is critical to the development of the story. Repetitive flashbacks to her strange maternal behavior try to illuminate the causes of Victor's perversity but aren't relevant. The other standout is Clark Gregg (who also wrote the screenplay and directed the film) as Charlie, who plays goody-two-shoes to Vincent's black sheep.

True to form, many of the most hilarious moments in "Choke" inhabit awkward sexual scenes: a rape role-play gone wrong, a senile mental patient's repeated claims that Vincent touched her "woo woo," and what has to be the most comical conversation between a handjob giver and receiver since "Animal House." Vincent's no-apologies attitude undermines the offensiveness of these scenes and renders them endearing portraits of a sex addict. Most importantly, Rockwell maintains comedic character throughout, handling one bizarre scenario after the next with a slew of crooked smiles and sardonic one-liners. Framed within the context of cheap, dirty and meaningless sex, "Choke" allows Victor some introspective discoveries, but like the film as a whole, they're best received with laughter rather than contemplation.


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