Directed By: Charles Bail
Starring: Stephen Collins, Janet Julian, Bo Svenson
Trivia 1: Producer Peter Shepherd makes a cameo in this movie as a scientist in a helicopter
Trivia 2: Courteney Cox, Helen Hunt, and Mariska Hargitay were all considered for the lead female role that ultimately went to Janet Julian
It’s tempting to use words like “ridiculous” and “far-fetched” to describe Choke Canyon (aka On Dangerous Ground), a 1986 sci-fi / action flick directed by Charles Bail. To dismiss it as such, though, would be missing the point entirely. Choke Canyon may be ludicrous and absurd, but you’ll be having too much fun to even care.
Physicist David Lowell (Stephen Collins) is on the verge of an important discovery. After spending months setting up his laboratory in Utah’s Choke Canyon, he’s about to prove that sound waves, with an assist from Haley’s Comet (which is set to pass overhead in a few weeks’ time), can be converted into a clean, renewable energy source.
Of course, if the Pilgrim Corporation has its way, Lowell will never get a chance to complete his experiment. Controlled by millionaire John Pilgrim (Nicholas Pryor), the Pilgrim Corp. is in dire need of a place to “store” (meaning hide) some nuclear waste, and Choke Canyon has been deemed the perfect spot to do so. Pilgrim’s assistant, Brook Alastair (Lance Henriksen), offers Lowell a large sum of money to vacate the canyon immediately, but the stubborn scientist refuses to budge. This forces John Pilgrim and his cronies to resort to more extreme methods of persuasion, and in a night of violence all of Lowell’s hard work goes up in smoke.
With Haley’s Comet a week or so away, Lowell decides to take matters into his own hands, and launches a one-man crusade against the Pilgrim Corporation’s Choke Canyon facility, destroying equipment and planting explosives in every corner of the compound. Lowell tells Pilgrim, in no uncertain terms, that he won’t end the reign of terror until his lab is rebuilt and his equipment replaced. To the company’s surprise, Lowell proves himself a formidable adversary, and not even “The Captain” (Bo Svenson), Pilgrim’s favorite hired gun, can convince the gung-ho physicist to leave the canyon.
Still, despite Lowell’s best efforts, the Pilgrim Corporation won’t yield to his demands. That is, until the desperate scientist receives some help from an unlikely ally: John Pilgrim’s only daughter Vanessa (Janet Julian)! With her in his corner, Lowell has a fighting chance to get what he wants, but with Haley’s Comet drawing closer by the hour, his window of opportunity is closing… and fast!
While watching Choke Canyon, you may find yourself asking a few questions, like “How does a physicist, who graduated from Harvard, transform so easily into an action hero?”, and “Is it really possible to wrap a large cable around an RV without drawing the attention of anyone inside it?” Take my advice: don’t bother looking for answers to these, or any other queries you may pose, because the movie won’t address a single one of them. Hell, Choke Canyon doesn’t even waste any time breaking down Lowell’s sound waves experiment, because ultimately it doesn’t give a damn about it; the clean energy project is nothing more than a device used to turn the film’s lead character into a badass wrecking machine, armed to the teeth with dynamite (where he got it, I have no idea) and with a talent for sneaking around in the dark without being seen (often right under the noses of Pilgrim’s inept guards).
Sure, logic takes a beating throughout Choke Canyon, but its plethora of action sequences more than make up for it. An early scene, when Lowell (on horseback) is being chased through the canyon by two jeeps, ends with a bang (literally); and the aerial stunts that fill up the movie’s final act are truly incredible. Choke Canyon has other strengths as well, including its cast (Stephen Collins is especially good as the heroic lead) and gorgeous cinematography (courtesy of two-time Oscar nominee Dante Spinotti), but it’s the film’s many exciting moments that make it such an entertaining watch.
And if banishing reason and common sense to the back burner for 94 minutes is all that’s required to enjoy Choke Canyon, then I say it’s a small price to pay!