“Haymaker” is an intriguing movie mashup, if nothing else. It’s “The Bodyguard” with a transgender twist, served on a beefcake MMA (Muay Thai) boxing platter.
The picture isn’t quite this or even remotely that, but it still might have come off had its leading man possessed something beyond an impassive A-B range of imparted emotions.
As its star is also its writer-director, well that wasn’t a problem that was going to fix itself.
Nick Sasso wrote, directed and stars as Nick Malloy, a defeated and humbled fighter reduced to doing bouncing work for his brother (D.B. Sweeney), who much preferred their previous life. Mack was Nick’s cornerman. These clubgoers?
“They pay the bills, so let’s be polite.”
But Nick loses the bouncing gig when he interrupts a backstage beating/rape of a star performer at a club. Still, that singer (Nomi Ruiz) is grateful, flirtatious and generous. And she’s got a job for him.
“What kind of job?” “A fun one…protect ME.”
It’s an odd relationship from the start. Transexual Nomi is vivacious, popular, a rising star and something of a drama queen. Trouble seems to travel with her, seeing as how she’s a bit of a mouthy provocateur.
Nick can’t keep her from every unpleasantness, because she’s got history and ongoing feuds — with a recording studio rival, with an LA sugar daddy (Ugo Kier) who resents her moving on “in this new life that I made for you.”
Nomi can’t even be bothered to tell Nick where they’re off to — by car or jet — half the time.
“Can’t you just adjust to your surroundings or whatever, like a ninja?“
The movie’s only important question is “Will they or won’t they?” And Sasso, the writer-director, is more interested in getting our guy back in the ring — doing a pilgrimage to Thailand, taking on onetime trainer (actress/stunt-goddess Zoë Bell) — than in answering that.
The story would be more interesting if the script — with its “I’ve got nothing to prove.” “I know that. Do you?” message — more overtly tied this need to fight again to Nick questioning his masculinity after falling for this transgender siren.
Sasso gives us a little of that, and a lot more concert drops and training montage.
Ruiz is an interesting if limited performer, confined here to playing a “type” — overtly sexual, over-compensating as female, with only the odd line here and there suggesting there’s more going on.
Sasso’s performance feels like a pulled-punch, and not just in the half-speed fight scenes. Are you in for this romance or not? Go big or go home.
The film’s style points for having the gender issue never come between Nomi and Nick (others have a “problem” with her) are squandered if Nick’s journey never seems that great and Sasso is too poker-faced to make it compelling.
Avoiding the conventional one man’s journey “from prejudiced to lovesick” leaves “Haymaker” with a vacuum where its heart should be. The picture was never destined to be a knockout, but settling for a draw seems a waste.
MPAA Rating: unrated, violence, sexual situations
Cast: Nikck Sasso, Nomi Ruiz, D.B. Sweeney and Zoë Bell
Credits: Scripted and directed by Nick Sasso. A Gravitas Ventures release.
Running time: 1:23