When you realize that Choke originally came from Chuck Palahniuk the same twisted mind who gave us Fight Club you start to get the idea of what you’re in for. Adapted by writer/director Clark Gregg the film version can’t possibly match Palahniuk’s bizarre carnal universe but it will have to do. Medical school dropout Victor Mancini (Sam Rockwell) is basically a slacker sex addict working as a ‘historical interpreter’ at a theme park in New England which means he spends most of his day job boinking milk maids in the hay for pay. When he’s not on the job he and his buddy Denny (Brad William Henke) spend lots of time at AA-type meetings for sex addiction. It’s clear Victor was one screwed up dude growing up under the ultra-liberal and unconventional eye of his nutty mother (Anjelica Huston). Now mom is suffering from Alzheimers and in a home that her son pays for by staging near-death scenes in upscale restaurants. He pretends to choke on food and later snags some dough from his kindhearted (and wealthy) rescuers which he uses to support mommie dearest. The plot such as it is just gets wilder from there as Victor uses all his “talents” to get it on with his mother’s new doc (Kelly MacDonald) a woman with strange ideas of her own. Rockwell has not reached any kind of major stardom levels yet but in film after film he proves he’s an actor’s actor and one of the most inventive thesps around. Choke is no different. He lifts some dicey material and makes it work on the sheer force of personality morphing effortlessly into Victor ultimately winning over the audience and making this one-dimensional guy more complex than he has any right to be. He’s particularly good playing opposite Henke who has got the messed-up-loser-pal act down pat. They’re very funny together. Huston is weirdness personified but you have to admire her for even taking on this kind of kook. The other women are certainly pleasant to watch and just as loony as the rest of the cast. MacDonald scores in her scenes with Rockwell and so does Paz de la Huerta as a fellow sex addict who spends much of the sessions in the bathroom falling off the proverbial “wagon” with Victor. Bijou Phillips clearly has fun in the theme park scenes. Actor turned writer and director Clark Gregg certainly gets the tone of the strange Palahniuk world but steers this ship to mixed results. To be fair dark comedy like this isn’t easy to pull off even for the most experienced of directors and Gregg probably should have reined it in a bit. Where he does succeed 100 percent is in the spirited performances he has elicited from his cast particularly Rockwell who seems to be having a great time and it translates on screen. As an actor himself (he even has a role here as Lord High Charie manager of the theme park) Gregg understands the tightrope these performers are walking in bringing this kind of crazy quilt to life and he really lets them rip. Choke is a relatively small film designed for quirky tastes and on that level and for Rockwell’s manic performance it’s worth a look.
February 08, 2002 2:07pm EST
Jonathan Cross (Chris Klein) is down and out in California when he runs into his old friend Marcus Ridley (LL Cool J) driving a pricey sports car and dripping in gold jewelry. As it turns out Ridley is making it big in an international Rollerball league and convinces Cross to do the same. Fast-forward four months into the future and Jonathan has become one of the biggest and most sought-after Rollerball stars. He's rich drives a nice car and is having a steamy relationship with his teammate Aurora (Rebecca Romijn-Stamos). From the looks of it Rollerball is a serious moneymaking operation: We are constantly shown million of dollars worth of currency going through money counters at record speed. And by the instant ratings numbers that appear on the organizer's monitors it's obvious that Rollerball fever has taken over the world. When conniving Rollerball creator Petrovich (Jean Reno) discovers that the ratings go through the roof when blood gets spilled things start to go very wrong. Cross and his teammates suddenly find themselves playing for their lives.
Chris Klein (American Pie 2) is Jonathan Cross the all-American Rollerball player but he underplays the role. You would expect a character in his position to have a certain amount of charisma and charm but Klein's delivery is a bit deadpan and lacking in attitude. His best pal Marcus Ridley is played by LL Cool J (Kingdom Come) who manages to add a bit of dimension to his otherwise underdeveloped character. In fact he may have been better suited for the lead. The only good part about model-turned-actress Rebecca Romijn-Stamos' (X-Men) role is that it didn't incorporate too many lines. Sounding like Natasha from Rocky and Bullwinkle you have to wonder what she was thinking with that accent which (contrary to the actress' recent statement on MTV that a bad accent is not necessarily bad acting) certainly is part of the acting and certainly is bad. Jean Reno (Just Visiting) was probably the most interesting character. He was all bad without a single redeeming quality which he at least pulled off with flair whether it was in his delivery or his elaborate fur coats.
Rollerball is director John McTiernan's (The Thomas Crown Affair) take on the 1975 classic directed by Norman Jewison. There is definitely enough action in Rollerball to keep viewers interested but the major problems lies within the characters' development-there isn't any. So while the action may keep your eyeballs glued to the screen momentarily you will find yourself indifferent to the characters their plight and what happens to them. Cross and Aurora's relationship for example is implied through one hastily done sex scene in the gym. Consequently when the evil Petrovich threatens to hurt her if Cross tries to leave the game we could care less because we don't really know her or how important she is to Cross. Being such an internationally renowned sport the accents which play a big part in the film are done too shoddily. The French accents go from Canadian to European within a sentence and that's only from the ones I could pick up. Who knows what other languages were massacred in the process?