Choke Canyon

August 23, 2011

On paper, Choke Canyon—what a title!—looks as though it might be an excuse for some campy fun. Get a load of the plot:

A modern-day cowboy-scientist (Stephen Collins) has a huge high-tech research lab somehow contained within a mesa in the Southwest. Place called (yup) Choke Canyon.

For some insane reason, probably geophysical (a term I use because I’m not quite sure what it means), the canyon area serves as a kind of nature’s tuning fork—or nature’s lightning rod—well, all this cosmic energy gets zapped down in there somehow. Collins realizes that this discovery could mean the end of fuel consumption as we know it, and bring peace and prosperity to all the peoples of the world.

Sounds like he’s nuttier than a Mr. Goodbar, but the movie asks us to take this seriously. Oh yeah, and the only way to prove the theory is to tap in to the cosmic source as Halley’s Comet is passing by, which, as the movie has it, is about to happen.

There’s more. The evil superconglomerate that owns Choke Canyon (Collins is leasing the spot) wants to dump its toxic waste there. They have to get Collins out of the way. They wreck his computers, ruin his home, and insult his horse. And the icy company hatchet man (Lance Henriksen, the android from Aliens) sends a paid thug (Bo Svenson) to rub out Collins personally.

But don’t count the cowpoke out. He kidnaps the daughter of the conglomerate’s chief executive officer and insists that his computers be put back in time for the comet’s arrival.

Some of this sounds like fun, right? It’s not. Director Chuck Bail prods things along, but he’ s obviously waiting for the big stuntman’s-heaven finale, in which Collins’ helicopter, carrying a tank of toxic waste, is chased across Utah by the bad guys in the biplane. There’s some flashy stunt flying here, and the film perks up, but it’s too late the save the show.

The blond, dimpled-all-over Collins is no longer the dashing young actor on the verge of becoming a star. (Remember Star Trek—The Motion Picture?) He’s actually better with age, although he does walk around a lot with a “Why couldn’t I have played Indiana Jones?” look on his face. The answer to that question is provided by his barely registered presence during this film.

First published in the Herald, September 1, 1986

All that, and Halley’s Comet, too? Henriksen and Svenson as the bad guys? You wonder how it could miss. Chuck Bail was a veteran stunt guy and actor who also directed Cleopatra Jones and the Casino of Gold and The Gumball Rally.