Sam Rockwell can now officially carry a comedy. Based on the book by Chuck Palahniuk, Choke
is about a hapless sex addict who works at a Colonial Willisamburg-clone theme park, and who likes to choke on his food in restaurants until someone saves him using the Heimlich. Because once they save his life, they feel responsible for him, and send him checks now and then. Sam Rockwell is able to make this feckless douche into a sympathetic protagonist, and that’s something.
I’d seen him before in the underrated grifter drama Matchstick Men and the also underrated adaptation of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, where he had the difficult job of playing Zaphod Beeblebrox. He was despised by some for not being their internal incarnation of the hard-partying galactic President, but I liked what he did with the character. Victor Mancini of Choke is a bit of both. Wild man and con man. And he’s utterly watchable as he bumbles through his rather odd life.
Anjelica Huston is excellent as his institutionalized mother, who he supports with his job as “the backbone of colonial America.” He can’t even be a real menial laborer- he plays one in a theme park. Chuck Palahniuk has a gift not only for unflinching views into the disgusting underbelly of American life, but at depicting its very absurdity, and while Choke apparently dilutes his novel, which I have not read, I enjoyed this adaptation quite a bit. The supporting characters are excellent- Denny played by Brad William Henke as a fellow sex addict whose hand roams down his pants at the drop of a hat, Bijou Phillips as Paige the doctor.
What the hell happens in it? Well, as he fights to support his crazy mom, he gets involved with Paige, who’s working on her case. And he finds out that he may just have been conceived from Jesus Christ’s DNA. Like Fight Club, it does often try to offend for its own sake with these bizarre turns of the story, but this is lighter fare. The flashbacks of his childhood are a bit more serious and first-time director Clark Gregg (who also plays the hilarious Lord High Charlie in this, and stars in “The New Adventures of Old Christine”) does a fine job balancing things. On occasion he veers into the rumble strips on the shoulder of the cliche highway, but overall it reminded me of Thank You for Smoking, and that’s a compliment.