Choking Man

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International Film Circuit

NEW YORK -- Director Steve Barron ("Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles," "Coneheads") tries too hard with his modest indie drama "Choking Man," which he also scripted.

Set in the drab environs of Jamaica, Queens, this tale of a pathologically shy Ecuadorean dishwasher is overburdened with disorienting stylistic devices and contrived plot elements that reduce the psychological depth to which it aspires.

The nearly mute Jorge (Octavio Gomez) works at a Greek diner run by the gregarious Rick (Mandy Patinkin), who offers plenty of world-weary advice along with his burgers and eggs. Jorge quickly develops an attraction for Amy (Eugenia Yuan), a young Chinese-American waitress, but is unable to act on it. Meanwhile, he's being bullied by his co-worker, Jerry (Aaron Paul), an ex-con who also has set his romantic sights on Amy.

Retreating to the isolation of his cramped room, Jorge engages in a series of disturbing exchanges with a mysterious Spanish-speaking man who increasingly encourages his underlying hostilities. We are given further insight into Jorge's thought processes via a series of animated interludes, the visual style of which is reminiscent of the Heimlich maneuver poster adoring the diner's wall.

While the teeming multicultural atmosphere of its setting is authentically captured, the film's attempt to blend urban realism and fantastical psychodrama never quite comes off. Not helping matters is the problematic central character, whose extreme reticence is conveyed so effectively that we ironically never quite come to care about his fate.
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