Victor (Sam Rockwell) is a sex addict. And a colonial reenactor. And he fakes choking in fancy restaurants to befriend rich people who, for some reason, then send him money.

He uses the money to pay for his mother’s medical care. His mother (Angelica Huston) was something like a con-artist/anarchist and raised Victor to be a leech on society. Now she’s in a constant care facility and unable to recognize him. He wants some way to get information about his father out of her before she dies. But in her deluded state, that’s impossible. He enlists the help of doctor Paige Marshall (Kelly McDonald) who believes there may be an experimental procedure that will restore his mother. And that’s about all of this scattered story I can talk about spoiler free.

Based on the novel by Chuck Palahniuk, Choke was adapted for the screen and directed by Clark Gregg, who also casts himself in the film’s sanctimonious authority figure Clark Gregg role, the landed gentryman among the reenactors. Friends who saw the movie with me said Gregg did a good job of condensing and focusing a rather sprawling novel. But taking the movie on its own merits, for me it didn’t ultimately come together.

There are several passages of dialogue that lack the Bukowskian blade of Palahniuk’s prose. I didn’t believe a single exchange between Rockwell and McDonald. McDonald, who I have always liked before, has a good portion of her performance castrated by bad ADR (an attempt to remove her adorable accent in post, I imagine). Rockwell is fine, but he is one tenth as convincing as he was in Snow Angels as an unstable loser. Huston is mostly wasted, since her character is more a concept.

Which isn’t to say that, as a wild Fruedian phantasmagoria, Choke doesn’t have its moments. Thanks to the brain of Palahniuk, the movie is constantly taking odd dives into dark corners. Some small performances are great. Brad Henke (as Victor’s compulsive masturbator friend Denny) is a strong comedic foil and Gillian Jacobs is great as a sincere stripper.

Continue reading about Choke (major spoilers)…Choke is a disgusting movie, but it doesn’t have the conviction to be really disgusting. While I don’t have any experience with anal beads, common sense tells me that they don’t emerge from the rectum shiny and clean. Choke is a movie about sex addicts where the money shot is always missing.

A sequence where Victor is convinced he is the second coming of Jesus, something that should be played for all its irreverence, is just one long unfunny joke. The reveal of Paige’s patient bracelet lacks dramatic force and the implications of Victor choking his mother to death are glossed over completely. A long faux-rape scene is paid off with a miniscule dialogue exchange between some cops and Victor. But the big miss is the Oedipal relationship between Victor and his mother, whose subtext never quite coheres. Is the “code blue” over the PA at the end a message from her? We can’t know.

Unfortunately for Gregg, he’s working in the shadow of the David Fincher/Jim Uhls adaptation of Palahniuk’s Fight Club, one of great films of the last decade. That movie ended with the destruction of the financial credit system and amid a reconciliation in the symbolic male/female relationship. Choke ends with two people having sex in an airplane bathroom after they have choked an old woman to death with chocolate pudding. Which seems more relevant?