It’s no ‘Fight Club,’ but ‘Choke’ has its moments

"Choke" is adapted from a book by Chuck Palahniuk, who recently said that any movie worth its salt should leave the viewer wondering how it ever got financing.

For viewers who don't know Palahniuk, that question might arise at the end of "Choke," a frantically absurd story of a human clone, sex addict and Colonial theme park employee caring for the demented mother who once allowed him to be mauled by a lynx.

For those who do know Palahniuk, the answer is obvious - it's because he wrote "Fight Club," a cult movie that became an anthem for disaffected young men, and made Palahniuk a brand.

"Choke," alas, is not "Fight Club," certainly not in terms of its cinematic chops. David Fincher brought a gorgeous, widescreen brio to that movie, and drew a career-making performance from Brad Pitt, making a gritty movie glamorous in spite of itself.

Fincher also gave "Fight Club" a heightened look and feel that exactly matched the amplified absurdity of its source material. "Choke" is a different experience entirely - a visually flat film that preserves Palahniuk's acid humor and flair for the ridiculous, but fails to provide a complimentary look.

Still, it ain't all bad. The movie gets an appealingly scruffy performance from anti-star Sam Rockwell, who also bravely attempts to inject the movie with the kind of emotion scrupulously bleached from "Fight Club."

Rockwell plays Victor, a deeply flawed, self-hating man who nonetheless wins the viewer's sympathy because of his devotion to his mother (Angelica Huston), institutionalized and lucid for only moments (very pale shades of "The Notebook").

His devotion makes him a favorite of the care center's elderly residents. He indulges their delusions, and this has a healing effect on the patients. This subplot dovetails with one of Palahniuk's wilder inventions - that Rockwell may have some of Jesus' DNA.

I don't know if Palahniuk intended this as a send-up of "The Da Vinci Code," but that's how it plays. It also replaces Dan Brown's cheap subversions with a surprising scene: a stripper named Cherry Daquiri delivers an improbably moving assessment of how the New Testament relates to Victor's troubles.

It's one of the movie's occasional bright spots, and there are just enough of them to make you wish there were more. *

Produced by Beau Flynn, Tripp Vinson, Johnathan Dorfman, Temple Fennell, written and directed by Clark Gregg, music by Nathan Larson, distributed by Fox Searchlight.


Choke

Directed by Clark Gregg. With Kelly Macdonald, Clark Gregg, Sam Rockwell, Gillian Jacobs, Anjelica Huston, Allison Karman, Heather Burns, Jonah Bobo, Joel Grey, Brad William Henke. Distributed by Fox Searchlight.

Running time: 1 hours, 29 minutes.

Parent's guide: R (for strong sexual content, nudity and language).