Chokehold (2019)- * * *
Directed by: Brian Skiba
Starring: Casper Van Dien, Melissa Croden, Kip Pardue, Corinne Van Ryck de Groot, Gianni Capaldi, Ilona McCrea, and Lochlyn Munro
When a Calgary-based fight trainer named Javier (Van Dien) gets involved in the world of all-female underground Punchfighting, things go bad fast. Russian mobsters believe he owes them money, so they shoot him. His daughter Zoey (Croden) has a career of her own as a more traditional MMA-style fighter in Las Vegas, and her trainer is the by-the-book Uncle Ray (Pardue). After being told what happened to her father, she returns home to Canada to sort out what's going on.
On top of everything else, it turns out Javier was in debt, but not to the gangsters; he is behind on mortgages to both his house and his gym and he was in dire financial trouble. His last employee, a fighter named Renee "The Blade" Hansen (Van Ryck de Groot) is there to console Zoey, but when a shady fight promoter known only as Jones (Munro) enters their lives, things get even more complicated. He wants her to Punchfight, but Renee at first doesn't want her to. But, as you might guess, Zoey wants to enter the underground fight world so she can get to the truth about what happened to her beloved dad.
So she works her way through all the Boxcar Wilhelminas, only to run up against Natalia (McCrea), part of the Russian crime underworld, and a Scottish fight promoter named Feodor (Capaldi). Naturally, even though Uncle Ray disapproves of this more brutal and unregulated fighting style, it all comes to a head in the big, final fight. Will Zoey get to the truth? Or will she be caught in the ultimate CHOKEHOLD?
Here's the most surprising thing about Chokehold: they're still making movies like this in 2019! Don't get us wrong, we're happy about it, especially when it's done well, as it is here. But seeing as it's in the wake of Bloodsport (1988), Bloodfist (1989), Bloodfist II (1990), and, perhaps most aptly, Lady Bloodfight (2016), it's also surprising they didn't decide to call it "Blood Choke", or something like that.
While we didn't approve of the CGI bone-breaks, or some of the stupider bits of dialogue, we thought, overall, that Chokehold is a good example of the age-old Punchfighting story and it has a lot going for it in the win column.
For example, you can see everything that goes on and it's well-lit. That's no small thing in this era of poor lighting. So it gets points for that. Fan favorite Van Dien is great in his role, brief as it is. He looks grizzled (in a macho way, of course) and he isn't just a trainer; he gets in on some fight action as well. But the filmmakers found a way to cleverly intersperse him throughout the film even after he's supposedly "gone". It provided some welcome emotion to it all.
Another thing we hadn't seen before was, during the Punchfighting matches, there were live DJs playing music while the ladies fought it out. Even more impressively, during one of the fights, there was a live metal band playing. This hybrid of music and punching must have been highly entertaining for the enthusiastic patrons in the audience. If you get bored of the fighting, you can rave it up to the techno and dubstep from the DJs. Or if metal is more your speed, you can bang your head. It was pretty novel.
When it comes to Melissa Croden as our heroine, Zoey, it's a classic case of what we talked about when we were recently on the Direct To Video Connoisseur's podcast. Namely, that it's preferable to get a fighter to act than it is to get an actor to fight. Clearly she's a real fighter, which went a long way as far as the beat-em-up scenes are concerned. Her flat affect is almost at Don "The Dragon" Wilson-levels, which was charming. Physically she's reminiscent of Julianne Nicholson and she definitely has a future in DTV if she wants one.
Chokehold does not deviate at all from the formulas of the Punchfighters of yore. There's nothing wrong with that. If anything, its stubbornness in holding fast to the old ways is commendable. Some well-staged fight scenes and B-Movie names add polish to this well-made entry in the underground fighting canon. Fans of the genre (especially of the sub-subgenre of all-female Punchfighting) will want to check it out.
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