- The Washington Times - Friday, September 26, 2008

“Choke” starts at a meeting for sex addicts and ends at a meeting of the Mile High Club. In between, we watch Victor Mancini bed his way through fellow addicts, the staff at his mom’s hospital and scary Internet hookups. There’s even a hilarious scene involving a sado-masochistic fantasy that cannot be detailed here.

Trust me: This is one very black comedy.

Strangely enough, it’s also mature and moving. This unlikely combination makes “Choke” one of the best films of the year.

Yes, a movie about a sex addict who works at a historical theme park and makes extra cash by pretending to choke and allowing wealthy restaurant patrons to “save” him is really that good.

Perhaps it shouldn’t come as such a surprise. Novelist Chuck Palahniuk also provided the source material for one of the best movies of the last decade, the weird and wonderful “Fight Club.”

Sam Rockwell stars as Victor, who can’t seem to start on the fourth of the 12 steps. (That’s making a moral inventory.) He’s joined on his journey by best friend and fellow addict Denny (Brad William Henke). The pair work at a Colonial Williamsburg clone, which is presided over by Lord High Charlie (a laugh-out-loud hilarious Clark Gregg, who makes his directorial debut here). Charlie’s the kind of guy who insists on staying in character even when he’s asking out a co-worker, and he makes Colonial life rather difficult for Victor and Denny.

The job doesn’t pay enough to keep Victor’s mom, Ida (Anjelica Huston) in a pricey home for women with mental issues. So he makes up the difference by conning people in restaurants. “If somebody saves your life, they’ll love you forever,” he explains.

Through flashbacks, we learn about Victor’s tortured relationship with his unstable mother, who reveals in a moment of lucidity that she has never told him the truth about his father. The senile Ida never recognizes Victor as Victor, though, so he resorts to some dirty tricks to get her to spill the beans.

He’s aided in his quest to learn the true identity of his father by a sympathetic doctor at the hospital (Kelly Macdonald). In the process, the sex-crazed Victor discovers that just maybe he can relate to a woman in more than purely libidinous terms.

“Choke” is sometimes preposterous but always very funny. More to the point, it’s always to the point.

“Fight Club” entertained but also expounded on the troubles of a generation of young men. “Choke” also has a lot to say about modern manhood. Nick Hornby proved you could be funny while talking about a man’s need to mature. Mr. Palahniuk proves, with the help of a talented cast, that you can be darkly funny while doing so.

★★★½

TITLE: “Choke”

RATING: R (Strong sexual content, nudity and language)

CREDITS: Written and directed by Clark Gregg based on the novel by Chuck Palahniuk

RUNNING TIME: 92 minutes

WEB SITE: foxsearchlight.com/choke

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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