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Choke

A Film by Clark Gregg

When David Fincher first set out to turn Chuck Palahniuk's somewhat absurdist novel, Fight Club into a motion picture, he was well warned that it could not be done. Somehow though, through a shit storm of impossibilities, Fincher did just that, and the film is now considered, for better of for worse, a cult classic of post-modern cinema. Now comes Clark Gregg's turn to attempt a manipulation of Chuck Palahniuk's Choke, a novel of sex addiction and possible divine intervention, from literal page to figurative screen. Though whereas the auteur Fincher made his film with its own absurdist demeanor - an almost alternate reality - that seemed to match the philosophical blow-by-blow of the supposedly "unfilmable" novel, actor-turned-first-time-director Gregg (best known these days for playing Julia Louis-Dreyfus' snarky ex-husband on the CBS sit-com "The New Adventures of Old Christine") is way way way out of his element and way way waaay over his head.

Grounded too much in reality - a thing that Palahniuk's writing does not sit well with - and coming off as much too serious, Gregg's Choke, its incessant fucking aside, just seems to lay there and do nothing. Quite the frigid fuck after all. Sam Rockwell, as Vincent, sex-addict, historical re-enactor and serial restaurant choker (and possible clone of Jesus Christ) also seems to just lie there. The usually vibrant actor seems to be even more bewildered as to why he is here than the massively bewildered character he is trying so desperately to play. Angelica Huston, as Vincent's delusional mother, though listless in the present, is the only one here with an almost saving grace to her performance when we see her in the obligatory flashback moments hauling her son around the country just one step ahead of whoever may be chasing them. Even the sex - and there is a lot of it - comes off as ordinary and unsatisfying - boring even. With all this prone movie-making just lying about, it is no wonder the film comes off as nothing shy of an unmitigated disaster.

One does not need to crane their cerebral cortex too far to realize that Gregg is certainly not the right man for such a daunting job as this. A fine actor (he gives himself the funniest part in the whole movie and ends up coming off as the only one who seems to be actually enjoying himself) Gregg should stick to that side of the camera from now on, or at the very least, take on directorial duties that aren't so impossibly saturated from the very outset. Perhaps someone of more cinematic ability, someone with a kino-eye that can see past straight-forward narrative into a realm of infinite possibilities, someone more on the same twisted brain-waves as Palahniuk himself should have taken on this project. Perhaps Fincher again, or one of his auteuristic ilk such as Spike Jonze or Michel Gondry. Perhaps then this film could have been saved, for better or for worse, from the pedestrian purgatory it has found itself mired in. [09/29/08]

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