Actor-director Clark Gregg (The New Adventures of Old Christine) takes a shot at adapting Chuck Palahniuk's riotous fourth novel about sex addiction, despair and historical theme parks. It's no FIGHT CLUB -- how could it be? -- but fine performances from Sam Rockwell and Brad William Henke deserve some passing attention.
Victor Mancini (Rockwell) is a self-acknowledged sex addict who depends upon the sweet but fleeting oblivion of his orgasms to escape the grim absurdities of his day-to-day life. His mentally ill mother, Ida (Angelica Huston), a troubled free spirit with whom Victor spent a bizarre, nomadic childhood, is suffering from dementia and rarely recognizes her only son when he comes to visit her in the pricey St. Anthony's constant care facility. Mistaking him for a lawyer acquaintance, Ida admits how disappointed she is in Victor. Once a promising med student (unbeknownst to her, Victor dropped out in order to get a job and keep her out of the state hospital), Victor is now a mere "tour guide." Victor is quick to point out that he's actually a "historical interpreter" -- breeches and all -- at an early American restoration village alongside his best friend and fellow addict, Denny (Brad William Henke). Together, Victor and Denny attend a 12-step program but with little visible success: Denny is still a compulsive masturbator and Victor is having sex with the woman (Paz de la Huerta) he's supposed to be sponsoring. In addition to random sex acts with virtual strangers, Victor achieves momentary, hit-and-run intimacy through a bizarre stunt he learned as a young boy: While eating in public, he'll intentionally choke on his food hoping the right person will embrace him from behind and give him the Heimlich maneuver. If he's lucky, his savior will also fuss over him once the food has been dislodged and treat him like a baby, even if only for a moment. Victor's random acts of intimacy threatens to get serious when Dr. Paige Marshall (Kelly Macdonald), a beautiful new doctor at St. Anthony's, suggests a radical, if not exactly legal way of reversing Ida's condition: If Victor will successfully impregnate her, she could use the fetal tissue to conduct her own stem-cell therapy. But for the first time in as long as he can remember, Victor can't perform. The reason? Deep down he knows he has to escape his mother once and for all. Plus he's in love.
Like the novel itself, Gregg's screenplay is filled with portentous observations ("You can't fool people into loving you") and ideas that aren't entirely digested: There's a ridiculous subplot involving Dr. Paige's belief that Victor's real father might in fact be Jesus Christ. In addition to repetitive, unimaginatively executed flashbacks to Victor's childhood, there's also a bewildering amount of hackneyed wisdom (real transformation comes not from being loved, but one's ability to love, no matter how difficult) that's meant to be taken at face value. It all makes for a mushy, stick center that leaves one longing for FIGHT CLUB's cool, hard shell. leave a comment --Ken Fox