Film note: First-time director Chokes


It’s been nearly ten years since director David Fincher boldly brought cult writer Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club to the big screen. Fincher’s film will still be the Palahniuk film to top, which is bad news for Choke, the first directorial effort by character actor Clark Gregg. It doesn’t quite reach the level of Fight Club, but Palahniuk’s name will be enough to draw crowds. It’s a bit unfair to compare the two, since Choke is neither a sequel nor anything like Fight Club, but the two films will be compared to each other until the next Palahniuk novel gets its big screen due—which hopefully won’t take another ten years.

Choke, a film written and directed by Clark Gregg. Opens September 26 at theaters across the Twin Cities. For theaters and showtimes, see

Gregg has taken some liberties with the source material, and something feels off from the get-go. There’s a lot of story to squeeze into a brief 90 minutes, but the gist is that Victor Mancini (Sam Rockwell) works at a historical theme park and has become a sex addict. He attends 12-step meetings with his best friend and co-worker Denny (Brad William Henke), who can’t control his own masturbation addiction. Not only is this problematic for Victor—who dips out of meetings to have random sex with female sex addicts—but all this stems from something deeper within him. His mother Ida (played deliriously by Anjelica Huston) is withering away in a hospital mental ward. Ida doesn’t even recognize Victor any more, but she’s been under the watchful care of Dr. Paige Marshall (Kelly McDonald of No Country for Old Men), who wants to help Victor with his mother and his sex addiction…but also has her own agenda. Working at the historical theme park isn’t paying his hospital bills, so Victor routinely feigns choking in front of strangers at restaurants. The strangers befriend him, believing they have saved him from choking to death, and send him get-well cards and money.

Gregg does manage some laughs with the outrageous situations and explicit dialogue, but has trouble juggling all the different characters and scenarios—not to mention flashbacks to Victor’s curious childhood, scenes at the world’s most horrible historical set, and Denny’s own descent into madness. The real problem, though, is that Gregg can’t get Palahniuk’s nihilism and satirical themes to translate onto the screen—as Fincher managed to do so effectively in Fight Club. Rockwell’s portrayal of Victor is spot-on; he brings more heart to Victor than the scummy character had in Palahniuk’s pages.

At its core, this is a mother-and-son relationship film, but it does contain scenes that might be tough to watch with your own mother (or son, for that matter).

Jim Brunzell III writes on film for the Daily Planet and hosts KFAI’s Movie Talk.