Professional wrestling movies get a bad rap. There are exceptions, like Darren Aronofsky’s The Wrestler, but for the most part pro wrestling movies are, in fact, horrible. When they attempt to be funny, it’s just to make fun of fans or the sport and when they try to be serious the drama never matches the real thing. Instead of being a straight up action movie or a wacky screwball comedy, 2016’s Chokeslam tries something different and decides to be a romantic comedy.
Chokeslam is a typical rom com with a professional wrestling backdrop. Corey Swanson (Chris Marquette) is a sweet and socially awkward guy whose high school friend and secret love Sheena DeWilde (Amanda Crew) went on to become Smasheena, a famous professional wrestler. The two lose touch over the years before their high school’s ten-year reunion reunite them. There are lots of twists and turns along the way, but there is only one way this is ending.
Chokeslam is a comedy, but it takes wrestling as seriously as the sport takes itself. Fans are not illiterate, the wrestlers are not sociopaths, and the matches are not shoots. The competitors are seen practicing matches without non-wrestlers in the movie being shocked. (In a great subtle callback later in the movie, one of the practiced sequences happens in a match, with the same camera angle being used in both scenes.) Insider terms like “stiff” and “heel” are used infrequently, so wrestling fans are not annoyed and non-fans are not confused.
Chokeslam is well written as wrestling movies go but as a movie overall, it is limited by the genre and does not allow itself to leave the trappings of its rom com confines. The characters are the most obvious example — Corey is quick with witty comebacks in a stilted awkward cadence, while Smasheena’s hard exterior is cover for a distrusting sensitive side. Both have familiar counterparts. Luke (Michael Ecklund) was the most popular jock in high school and now hangs out with Corey for his own unknown reasons while Sheena dates the unbelievably handsome and beautifully named Tab Hennessey (Niall Matter), who is as self-centered as his name would lead you to be believe.
Despite the audience’s familiarity with the characters’ archetypes, they are well written. In many rom coms, the writing tries too hard to make its audience want the star-crossed couple to get together. Corey and Sheena have a natural chemistry. The movie does not have to work at convincing its audience since the characters are convincing enough just by being themselves. Luke is especially well written. Initially, Luke seems like your typical meathead jock with a heart of gold — and that may be the case — however, Ecklund brings charm to Luke. The one misstep may be with Tab, who actually does not seem to be such a bad person until he is basically betrayed.
Though Chokeslam’s story follows a predictable path, the writing prevents it from ever being boring. Unlike many romantic comedies, scenes do not run long and the dialogue is never corny or over the top. Characters are given room to develop and moments are left alone to deliver full significance. The movie never reinvents the wheel, but still does an admirable job of telling its story.
Chokeslam is an inoffensive romantic comedy that plays to its strengths. The story remains focused, the cameos are well done (the always affable Mick Foley essentially plays himself, for example), and the audience are never asked to suspend their disbelief to ridiculous levels. Chokeslam is a cute movie, and one of the better professional wrestling flicks you will ever see.
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