The world doesn’t need another milquetoast Canadian indie comedy. But it’s a national specialty, so they keep coming around, safe, inoffensive, government-funded and mildly amusing. Unfortunately for Chokeslam, safe and inoffensive aren’t the words you want to hear about a wrestling comedy, even if it aspires to the romantic variety. Director Robert Cuffley’s attempts to fuse the world of wrestling with the genre clichés of rom-com make for a cute, unassuming yarn that never quite gets off the mat.
Corey Swanson (Chris Marquette) is a deli-clerk carrying a ten-year torch for the girl that got away. Said girl is Sheena DeWilde (Amanda Crew), a pro-wrestler whose temper has earned her a league suspension and an unpaid vacation to stew back at home. In the standard machinations of these things, she’s back in town for their high school reunion. Harking back to high school is painful for both of them; their friendship went off the rails with Corey’s hare-brained teenage marriage proposal (is there any other kind?). While Sheena went on to big things, Corey crawled into the hole of lovable loserdom and stayed there a long time. Whether they’ll find a spark that was barely there in the first place is the main driver for the movie, while Sheena wrestles (pun intended) with retiring from a tempestuous career.
Cuffley and his co-writer Jason Long populate Chokeslam with quirky secondary characters, the high-school jerk-asses and the overbearing manger/boyfriend and the over-protective mom, but they’re all types. They’re sketched ably enough but lack the zaniness or bite to make them compelling. Marquette’s whitebread Swanson is the typical well-meaning guy that’s kind of a stalker jerk but his heart is in the right place so he gets a pass. And Amanda Crew is just passable as a pro wrestler; it’s a big leap off the ropes from her role on Silicon Valley.
Once Chokeslam gets rolling, its ungainly parts do come together to make an affably amusing film. There’s decent jokes tucked in there, and Sheena’s retirement finale has a few bonafide laugh-out-louds. As hybrid comedies go, it’s just more choke than slam.
Chokeslam opens in Toronto, Regina, Calgary and Vancouver on Friday, April 7th, and is playing select other Canadian cities already.