Covering all his favourite themes – childhood trauma, sexual deviance, identity crises, - Chuck Palahniuk’s fourth novel Choke is a surreal and satirical celebration of male angst. Scabrous humour doesn’t come scabbier.
Cinematically then, it has the same cult potential as Fight Club. But while actor Clark Gregg makes a bold attempt to splice Bret Easton Ellis with Stanley Kubrick for his directing debut, he’s bitten off more than he can chew.
Sam Rockwell, clearly drawn to mendacious rogues after Matchstick Men and Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, plays Victor, a raging sexaholic whose mother Ida (Huston, almost very good) is fading fast on a psychiatric ward.
When he’s not giving in to his orgasm addiction, Victor works alongside his equally sex-obsessed friend, compulsive masturbator Denny (Brad William Henke), as a lowly serf in an 18th century theme park.
Unable to pay for Ida’s treatment on a peasant’s wage, Victor conducts a lucrative scam whereby he goes to restaurants, pretends to choke, waits to be saved by a fellow diner, and then guilt-trips the good Samaritan into looking after his financial well-being.
He’s not all bad though. Always popular at the hospital, he is even chosen by his mother’s physician Paige (an awkward-looking MacDonald) to be the father of her child. Embarrassingly, he fails to deliver the goods.
She believes all his dysfunctions stem from his childhood. Indeed, Victor is forever revisiting the days when arch manipulator Ida dumped him on a succession of foster parents before stealing him back again.
But the search for his father brings forth a real revelation. Christ’s foreskin, does it ever!
Choke was never going to win any prizes for subtlety, but by toning down Palahniuk’s nastier absurdities in favour of obvious laughs, Gregg’s adaptation is no more provocative than the average Carry On film.
High spots include Victor’s run-ins with his most vex’d boss who always stays in character (played by Gregg himself, recognisable to fans of The West Wing), the ill-fated ‘rape’ of a house-proud masochist, and the reappearance of a lost love bead.
But, like the baffling subplot involving Denny and his obsession with rocks, the meaty bits get lost in a stew of lumpy sentiment and diluted ironies.
Connoisseurs of true satire will find it hard to swallow.