Monday, November 28, 2011

You'll 'Choke'...On Fits of Unintentional Laughter: "Choke" (2001)

You might see the names "Dennis Hopper" and "Michael Madsen" on the cover of this straight to video thriller and think "how bad can it be?" Trust me, it is worse than you can imagine.

Hopper is businessman Henry. What type of business? I don't know, the writer/director cannot be bothered with such trivial nonsense. Anyway, sleazy business associate Roy (Ron Sloan) is trying to pressure Henry into yet another shady deal. Henry refuses, and then gets a call that his cute daughter Gena (Chelcy Reynolds, who does NOT take her clothes off in the film) has just drunkenly run over a district attorney's son and killed him. Roy overhears the conversation, and tries a little blackmail to get Henry to sign on to this damn deal.

It may have been one hell of a deal, but we never find out. The funniest scene occurs at well-to-do Hopper's suite of offices, which is about the size of my bedroom closet, even though Henry drives a Hummer! Henry attacks Roy, leaving him coughing and gasping in the office building bathroom. Henry later checks on Roy, and finds him dead. He dumps the body out the bathroom window and makes plans to get rid of it.

Cue local serial killer Will (Michael Madsen), who decides to help out Henry. Will already has a body in the trunk of his car, but there's room enough for Roy's carcass, too. The two make an agreement: Will will dump Roy's body, but Henry must help with Will's own alibi for his latest murder. Trust me, the synopsis, a bad riff on "Strangers on a Train," is more interesting than the film.

I am guessing the entire budget for the film was barely enough to pay for Madsen's brand new John Deere cap. The film is goofy-cheap, from the hysterical offices to Henry's rather modest home. Most of the film involves Henry and Will talking to each other for what feels like hours on end. They cover their childhoods, how dissimilar they are, pick up hitchhikers, leave notes for each other, threaten one another, etc. I eventually forgot whose bodies were in the trunk of the car, and didn't care. Watch for one scene where Will and Henry park and admit to their respective crimes as a peeping tom looks on. Does the peeper's testimony put anyone behind bars? No, his only role is to turn around from Will and Henry and look at the only actress with enough low self-esteem to show a brief boob in a dressing room scene.

The director must have sat in between Madsen and Hopper in the endless driving scenes, because the camera pretty much shows us every nose hair the two actors possess. The finale involves one character's lack of peripheral vision, I was laughing instead of being thrilled or relieved.

"Choke" deservedly went straight to video. Like the DVD cover? Looks kind of cool, huh? Aside from the cut and paste picture of the two stars (which I believe came from another film anyway), none of that is in the movie. Perform the Heimlich maneuver on yourself after watching this, and pick a better flick. (*) out of five stars.