Combustible Celluloid
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With: Nomi Ruiz, Nick Sasso, John Ventimiglia, Veronica Falcón, Udo Kier, Zoë Bell, D.B. Sweeney
Written by: Nick Sasso
Directed by: Nick Sasso
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 83
Date: 01/29/2021

Haymaker (2021)

2 Stars (out of 4)

Fist Trite

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

This good-looking action/drama, casually paced and up against exotic, late-night backdrops, is nonetheless a total flatline in terms of story and characters, with the exception of the fiery Nomi Ruiz.

Nick (Nick Sasso) is a former Muay Thai fighter now working as a bouncer in a nightclub. When he saves trans singer Nomi (Ruiz, also known as Jessica 6) from a rapist, she asks him to become her bodyguard. As they tour the world, Nomi and Nick seem to grow closer, but at the same time, she keeps dragging him to bars and parties, where she alienates him with her behavior and her drinking and drug-use. They fight, and Nick decides to go back to fighting and heads to Thailand to train. But can he forget Nomi, or are their destinies linked?

Visual FX man Sasso makes his writing, directing, and acting debut with Haymaker, in addition to producing, editing, and — yes — providing the visual FX. His strength is certainly in the visuals, and he cooks up a slick, lush, neo-noir atmosphere in locations set all over the world, reminiscent of old MTV music videos or quietly obscure 1980s movies like Choose Me and Mona Lisa.

He also had enough pull to assemble a fun supporting cast, consisting of D.B. Sweeney, Udo Kier, John Ventimiglia, and stunt coordinator Zoë Bell. But that's about where the good stuff ends. The story of Haymaker has no dramatic or emotional pull. Nick decides to take the job guarding Nomi after only a second's hesitation, and his decision to return to fighting seems equally completely arbitrary.

Sasso himself is weirdly stiff in the role. Although he pulls off the fight scenes well enough, he comes off as robotic and blank in the other scenes that require him to be human. Happily, Ruiz makes the most of her role, even if it does revolve around a series of pop-star cliches. She has has star power to burn, and there's never any doubt that she'd be a phenomenon.

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