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Hard To Swallow

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The hardest thing for a film like Choke was that its major draw-card was also going to attract its biggest criticism. Like the son of a sport star, Choke had massive shoes to fill.Choke is the second film adapted from the critically acclaimed author Chuck Palahniuk, most reputably known for the punch in the guts that was Fight Club (and when I say critically acclaimed, I should explain that I mean it in much the same way as I would; the critically acclaimed author Irvine Welsh. Meaning that there are few Irvine Welsh fans as there are fans of Trainspotting).Fight Club is one of my favourite movies of all time, and one of the rare films that defy the common theory that “the book is always better.”David Fincher visually perfected the intensity and raw power that made the book so definitive and with stellar performances from Ed Norton, Brad Pitt and Helena Bonham-Carter, Fight Club catapulted to the leagues of Taxi Driver and Scarface.I began reading Choke shortly after I had finished Fight Club. The book was amazing. As his fourth novel to be published, Palahniuk had perfected his craft and was able to further explore a place somewhere between psychedelic and psychotic.Unfortunately, Clark Gregg’s interpretation failed miserably to extract and capture the disturbing sense of humour and gritty detail, which made this book so incredible.(This is Gregg’s directorial debut. Before stepping behind the lens, some of you may recognise him as Agent Coulson of the Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division in Iron Man. Check out his profile here).Choke’s anti-hero Victor Mancini, much like Tyler Durden, has more issues than your average porn fiend and much of the plot revolves around his inability to cope with where his life is heading. However, where Fight Club focuses on the effect of Tyler’s problem, Choke attempts to explore the cause of Victor’s current mental state.In between his day job as a historical interpreter and caring for his mother whose memory is slowly deteriorating, Victor attends group therapy sessions for sex addicts and chokes on food at restaurants, only to be saved by unsuspecting victims. It is his theory, that when a person saves your life, they feel somewhat responsible for your well-being.Sam Rockwell saves the movie from being a complete pile of shit. His portrayal of Victor is exactly as we all pictured in our heads and makes you wonder whether Palahniuk had him in mind when he wrote the book. Without Rockwell’s wit and charm, Victor could have easily been perceived as any old con man or creep.Kelly Macdonald is extremely bland as Victor’s love interest. She has lost all of the boldness and cheek, which made her so appealing in Trainspotting.Brad William Henke (who some will recognise from his small role in Dexter, check it out) is confusing as Victor’s best friend. As a second-rate Seth Rogen, Henke switches between complete moron and sexual deviant to Victor’s insightful and thought-provoking conscience on the side.One scene in particular basically sums up the kind of humour you can expect from Choke and demonstrates Rockwell’s natural ability to entertain…Having finally received a hand-job from the historical milkmaid; Victor is sprung by his boss Charlie (played wonderfully by director Clark Gregg). As she sleeps with Victor’s dick in her hand and Charlie confesses his love for her, Victor awkwardly tries to convince him to give her another chance. In what Victor manipulates into a perfectly rational explanation, Charlie leaves not only willing to pursue his love again but actually thanks him for the advice.As an adaption, Choke is disappointing. Gregg, who is obviously a fan, has tried to extract far too many elements from the text and has been unable to provide enough screen time to justify them.Those of you hoping for another Fight Club – DON’T! Leave your expectations at the door and try to judge this film on its’ own merits. (And yes, yes, I understand the hypocrisy of all this – telling you not to compare the two, when I have spent this entire article doing exactly that).At the end of the day, Choke succeeds as an original comedy and still a very enjoyable film. Sam Rockwell never fails to disappoint and his performance alone is well worth your time.2.5 starsIn the meantime, you can check out the official trailer here.And for those of you with some time to kill, here is a great list of some other book-to-screen adaptations.