Despite a title that promises something luridly violent, viewers should know the movie Chokeslam is, first and foremost, a romantic comedy.
It just happens to be set against the backdrop of professional wrestling. In the foreground though, it’s about a humble delicatessen clerk named Corey (Chris Marquette) who has long carried a torch for his best friend from high school, Sheena (Amanda Crew), even after she has reinvented herself as wrestling star Smasheena and endured the indignity of a failing 10-year-old career beset by violent public outbursts.
When she returns to her small town (the film was shot in and around Regina) for a promotional tour, Corey again plots to make a play, even as Sheena is challenged by ambitious rival Angel (Chelsea Green) for a fight on her hometown turf.
If that’s an unconventional premise for a rom-com, well, that’s precisely the point for director and co-writer Robert Cuffley, who acknowledges the genre has fallen on hard times lately.
"You go into a romantic comedy and know (the designated lovers) are going to get together. It’s just a matter of: How does it happen?" Cuffley says in a phone interview from his Calgary home.
"That genre is pretty well worn out. Honestly, I wouldn’t jump into that genre willingly unless we could just put a big spin on it, where the woman is the aggressor and the man is kind of a milquetoast, passive neurotic," he says.
"It’s not fresh anymore. It needs to take a decade rest, I think."
Of course, it helps Cuffley has etched out something of a trademark when it comes to creating strong — if not downright imposing — female characters, starting with Katharine Isabelle’s tempestuous would-be writer in his 2001 debut film, Turning Paige, and Tricia Helfer’s no-nonsense Celene showing Leelee Sobieski the dominatrix ropes in his Manitoba-lensed 2007 kink comedy Walk All Over Me.
"It’s not something I set out to do. It just ends up happening," he says, admitting the tendency didn’t always fit with the conventional wisdom of the industry.
"I remember with Walk All Over Me, someone at a funding body told me: ‘No one’s going to see a movie with two women.’ That was 2006 and it’s not really that long ago.
"So things have changed substantially for the better."
Cuffley says he was unfamiliar the wrestling world depicted in the film, although its theatricality does dovetail nicely with the demands of a film comedy.
"Everyone’s got their personas, which can change just before the match starts," he says. "People are into the story more than the actual slams to the mat.
"I’m not a fervent fan, but my co-writer Jason Long, he’s nuts," Cuffley says. "That was more him than me, for the wrestling.
"I just wanted to get all the theatrics right so real wrestlers aren’t rolling their eyes."