Clark Gregg's adaptation of Chuck Palahniuk's flawed fourth novel had the opportunity to be that rare beast: a movie that's better than the book. Instead, it hews too closely to its source and so bears the burdens of the novel. Choke is the story of Victor Mancini (the talented Sam Rockwell, making his first major career misstep), a sex addict who works in a colonial reenactment village for tourists. Victor makes himself choke in restaurants in order to get other patrons to give him the Heimlich maneuver. After the patrons save his life, they proceed to love and financially support him forever. This is a central conceit of the book, but the movie only briefly touches on it and makes a confusing muddle of the idea. On top of that, Victor is taking care of a mother who can no longer remember him, and he also might turn out to be the Messiah.
The problem is that Choke is 89 minutes long and way too shallow to be anything more than a few stammered laughs wedged into long, awkward stretches of narration. Some scenes—a staged faux-rape, an early restaurant scene—sparkle with ingenuity, but there's too much listlessness and "who-am-I-really" whining going on to make everything really click as a film. Rockwell is too old to play an aimless young man, and his attempts to be sleazy-but-sincere fall flat.
There's not a plot so much as just an aimless series of things happening to Victor. Scenes that a better director could have polished to a shine are rendered impotent in Gregg's hands. The moment when Victor is applauded by old people for acting like a dick—one of the funnier passages in the book—is perhaps one of the least amusing attempts at humor in any film this year. Choke is an inept, poorly made movie for die-hard Palahniuk fans only.