One-time “Starship Trooper” Casper Van Dien gets off easy in “Chokehold,” a bloody, bomne-snapping B-movie set in the world of off-the-books “no rules” mixed martial arts brawling in Arkansas.
Van Dien’s character is killed off in the first act. Top billed, and home before anybody misses him. Nice work, if you can get it.
He’s here just long enough to show us he’s got some moves before his character’s estranged daughter — fighter and screen newcomer Melissa Croden — takes over, takes the hits and carries the movie for the remaining 70 minutes.
That movie, a vengeance tale about a daughter trying to prove herself in her sport, confront the MMA mobster (Ilona McCrea) who murdered her dad and collect some fight purses as she does, is a lump on the mat — inert, from its inane plot and colorless dialogue to the slo-mo fights which demonstrate the concept of “stage punch” to those who’ve never been able to pick up on them in better fight movies. Where, you know, the fact that you’re not ACTUALLY hitting somebody is masked.
Croden is Zoe, a brawler who envisions a future for herself in her father’s sport, but in Vegas, where the MMA action actually is.
The cleverest piece of filmmaking co-writer/director Brian Skiba manages is the parallel construction that shows us Zoe getting knocked out in Vegas as Dad, Javier (Van Dien) fights and fights and is finally done in by a firearm way east in Arkansas.
Zoe settles in at Dad’s old gym, links up with Dad’s favorite female trainer (Corinne Van Ryck de Groot) and grits her teeth through cops who seem disinterested in finding Dad’s killer.
“Your father was in a dangerous business, one that likes to keep its secrets ‘secret,'” is all the unkempt detective (Diego Diablo del Mar, most colorful stage name ever) offers.
Zoe, trained by Renee (Van Ryck de Groot), dives into the fight scene, promoted by Jones (Lochlyn Munro), works her way through assorted female brutes, the sort who offer no quarter, and won’t take it, either.
“Give up! GIVE UP! Before I break your arm!”
They never listen.
Eventually, Zoe must face Tatiana. That’s the only way to get to boss Natalia (McRea), a sadistic she-devil whose Russian overlords are putting the financial screws to her even as she’s kicking sparring partners through tables and walls — just for kicks.
A clumsy device — Dad’s “training videos,” video letters to Zoe — is introduced but mercifully abandoned.
Aside from the Russian intrigues and an opportunistic Scot (Gianni Capaldi), there’s nothing to this story outside of the bloodier-than-bloody bouts. No love interest, no real benefit to the addition of Uncle Ray (Kip Pardue) to Zoe’s fighting life.
With nothing but fights to recommend it, they’d better be good, right?
They aren’t. The choreography is elaborate, but gives itself away, lower level pro wrestling style. They’re not fights, they’re half-speed dances with big sweeping kicks and punches ducked in close-up. So that we can see, you know, how fake it all is.
They turn “Chokehold” from the B-movie Van Dien signed on for to a D-movie by its closing credits, a clumsily plotted and directed thriller that’s a primer on how stage punches work, how fake it all can look when we’re supposed to believe the pugilists are actually landing blows.
MPAA Rating: unrated, graphic violence, profanity
Cast: Casper Van Dien, Melissa Croden, Ilona McCrea, Corinne Van Ryck de Groot, Lochlyn Munro and Kip Pardue
Credits: Directed by Brian Skiba, script by Brian Skiba, Craig Michael Hall An Ammo release.