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'Choke' is a rollicking good time

Brad William Henke, left, and Sam Rockwell know how to have a good time.

Searchlight Pictures

Brad William Henke, left, and Sam Rockwell know how to have a good time.

Elsewhere is my review of Towelhead, a detestable movie about a teenage girl's forced sexual awakening. It reads like I'm a prude; I can offer references proving otherwise. • Before Towelhead's sleaze wore off, I watched Choke, an infinitely more enjoyable slither through sexual misconduct. Clark Gregg's adaptation of Chuck Palahniuk's novel about the obscene habits of sex addicts and soul rapists is raunchier than anything Judd Apatow hatches as consenting adults do and say things previously untapped in mainstream movies.

Age of consent isn't the only difference between Choke and Towelhead. There's also the perversely redemptive angle that Towelhead ignores. The antihero in Choke degrades women and is degraded by them, yet somehow becomes a better man for the experience. Of course Choke is a comedy, as much as Palahniuk's other book-turned-movie Fight Club inspired shell-shocked laughter.

Victor Mancini (Sam Rockwell) works at a colonial theme park, unable to contain his sexual urges with co-workers and visitors. At least his chronically masturbating pal, Denny (Brad William Henke), gets locked in stocks to curb his habit. They regularly attend sex addiction therapy, where Victor usually sneaks quickies with a prostitute (Paz de la Huerta).

Victor's lust for the "perfect, beautiful nothingness" of meaningless sex has psychological roots, spelled out by Anjelica Huston's perfectly measured performance as his mother, Ida. She's an Alzheimer's patient in a Catholic hospital where Victor knows most of the staff in the biblical sense. Ida thinks Victor is another lawyer from her checkered past, and he plays along, hoping to finally learn his father's identity.

Ida's physician, Paige Marshall (Kelly Macdonald), rebuffs Victor's advances until she uncovers a possible cure involving their sexual coupling — in the hospital chapel, evidence of Palahniuk's mission to offend that Gregg dutifully follows. Choke and its characters can never be taken seriously, making the solutions to everyone's problems strangely moving, or at least just strange.

Choke feels longer than its short running time. We become desensitized to the naughty bits, flashbacks reveal too much too soon and a subplot involving Denny's conventional relationship with a stripper must mean more in the book. Rockwell and Huston are terrific, but they can't overcome the script's occasional nothingness.

Choke is far less didactic than Fight Club, with Palahniuk's anarchy channeled toward titillation rather than pure nihilism. Gregg spins a frenetic dirty joke with a Clockwork Orange punch line, an unexpected moral to an immoral yarn.

Steve Persall can be reached at or (727) 893-8365. Read his blog, Reeling in the Years, at



Grade: B

Director: Clark Gregg

cAST: Sam Rockwell, Anjelica Huston, Kelly Macdonald, Brad William Henke, Clark Gregg, Bijou Phillips, Paz de la Huerta, Joel Grey

Screenplay: Clark Gregg, based on the book by Chuck Palahniuk

Rating: R; pervasive strong sexual content, profanity and nudity

Running time: 89 min.

'Choke' is a rollicking good time 09/24/08 [Last modified: Thursday, September 25, 2008 12:31pm]
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