February 21, 2018 Chokeslam (Movie Review)
Making its Canada premiere nearly 2 years ago at the Calgary International Film Festival, thanks to MVD Entertainment, the pro wrestling Comedy Chokeslam arrives on DVD, Blu-Ray and VOD in the USA on Tuesday, February 27th, 2018. It says fans of 2000’s Ready to Rumble, 2006’s Nacho Libre or Netflix’s GLOW series should enjoy it. The quote on the poster even says it “thankfully follows in the footsteps of Netflix’s GLOW in more ways than one,” taken from Phil Wheat’s review at Nerdly.co.uk.
“Thankfully” is the right word too, as Ready to Rumble was infamously terrible and Nacho Libre was dull and forgettable. Chokeslam has more praise going for it those since its Calgary debut, including an appearance at the World Film Festival in San Francisco. It even won in 3 categories at AMPIA’s Rosie Awards, including best director for Robert Cuffley (Walk All Over Me 2007, Ferocious 2012).
But what is it all about? It tells the story about a guy named Corey (Chris Maquette: Freddy Vs Jason 2003, Fanboys 2009), whose life is lacking in glory. His life peaked at the end of high school when he tried to propose marriage to his friend Sheena (Amanda Crew: The Haunting in Connecticut 2009, The Age of Adaline 2015), only to be turned down in front of everyone. In the past decade since then, he has been working at the deli while living in his mother’s basement. Hope springs eternal though, as he meets Sheena at their high school reunion and falls for her all over again.
Sheena being a famous professional wrestler burnt out on the business does little to dim the spark. In fact, Corey is motivated to help her retire with grace with a big benefit match to win her over. With the help of his high school friend Luke (Michael Eklund: The Call 2013, Eadweard 2015), they manage to get everything ready- from putting up posters to setting up the ring. The only problem is that it attracted the attention of a Japanese wrestling promotion, and they want to sign Sheena to a 5-year contract. So, the big event Corey hoped would woo her is now likely to take her away from him for good. Can he overcome the odds and convince her to stay with him? Or will she prefer the Budokan to the basement?
So, it is just another romantic wrestling Comedy, without being 2006’s Just Another Romantic Wrestling Comedy. Not that there are many films that combines meet-cutes with mandible claws, cuddles with collar-and-elbow tie-ups, or other romantic gestures with wrestling terms. Yet the film manages the combination well here. It does not go over the top with its roles. Marquette’s Corey may be a loser, but he is not a complete clown. He comes off as a sympathetic figure, trying his best with only good intentions in mind. Not that this always works, but he is a character the audience could root for.
The same goes for Crew’s Sheena. She is tired of her line of work and the trouble it has brought her. She is not a grunting stereotype- just someone sick of her job. Even her boyfriend, and Corey’s rival, Tab Hennessey (Niall Matter: Watchmen 2009, The Predator 2018) gets more build-up than being a moustache-twirling villain. The film does a good job at balancing the characters out between being people and being punchlines. It is where a good chunk of its charm lies.
The rest of it is lies in the chemistry the cast has with each other, and it works out very well. Marquette and Crews come off as sweet together, coming off well as old friends. Eklund bounces well off Marquette with his…well, unique approach to helping him out. Even the wrestlers are handled well, whether in full roles (WWE’s Mick Foley: Beyond the Mat 1999, Holy Foley! series) or as cameos (Lance Storm: Bending the Rules 2012). It brings out the best in the cast, and in turn they bring out the best in the film’s jokes. Not that every joke hits. It does better with the character interactions than the Adam Sandler-esque skits. Those parts come off less funny and more dumb. Luckily, the film does not dwell on them and moves on swiftly.
Chokeslam is not exactly blockbuster-quality, though it does look good. The cinematography is solid, with a nice pace and flow to the editing. It does a good job keeping up the pace in the ring too, where the action is okay. Wrestling fans are not exactly going to see any luchador moves. Crews is not playing the Queen of Strong Style, so to speak. However, what is there is entertaining enough (like the film’s title move). The soundtrack by Raj Ramayya is okay too, with some nice instrumental tracks for the wrestlers’ entrance themes by Dusty Milligan. The one exception is the end credits music; points for originality, but it is the best audio cue to switch back to the DVD menu.
In the end, Chokeslam manages to stand tall over its worrying company in the wrestling comedy genre. The cast has good chemistry that brings out the best in the script. They make the high spots that much better, while the duff notes pass by more quickly. It is unlikely to be a main eventer in the Rom-Com world, as not everyone will be keen on the grappling theme. However, it is not a jabroni in it either. It will be a pleasant surprise for those who give it a chance. For these reasons, CrypticRock gives Chokeslam 3.5 stars out of 5 stars.