Movie Review: Never bet against “Notorious Nick” in the Octagon

“Notorious Nick” is a workmanlike, formulaic “overcome all obstacles” MMA fight picture in the classic mold.

But it’s based on the true story of MMA fighter Nick Newell. And the “obstacles” basically boil down to one thing. Nick Newell fought with just one arm. So yes, it’s not just “inspired by a true story.” It’s inspiring.

This bio-pic follows Newell from childhood, where young Nick (William Jackson Kelly) is bullied as “the freak” for being born one with arm. But he makes that friend for life, fellow wrestling fan Abi (Marcellus Maxwell).

They imitate the pro wrasslin’ trash talk of their idol, Bubba “the Bear” Braun and horse around with his moves right up to the day a high school coach (Barry Livingston) taunts the now-teenaged Nick (Cody Christian of TV’s “All American” and “Teen Wolf”) and Abi (Cameron James Matthews of “Freeland”).

“Why don’t you guys stop faking like you’re wrestling and do it for real?”

One plus in this script is that it opens with Nick losing a fight (as an adult) and shows the teasing (“Hey, it’s The Elbow.”) and humiliations he endures on the mat. He loses. A lot. His buddy Abi, the one who talks him into MMA after high school, is a natural.

What just happened? “He kicked my ass.” “The key to getting better, know ‘why.'”

The villains are properly villainous (nobody wants to fight “the gimp”), and the leads — Christian, Matthews and Livingston — are quite convincing.

Elisabeth Röhm plays the supportive single mom who tells him “The only disability in life is a s—ty attitude.” She’s the one who takes him to an inspirational lecture by former major league pitcher Jim Abbott, who pitched for the Angels and the Yankees, with just one arm.

Livingston is a steady presence at the coach who doesn’t care for “quitters.” And Kevin Pollack is the droll promoter who cracks “Good thing you write with your right hand” and endorses Nick as he subdues a foe in his last amateur tryout.

“OK, he’s ‘technically asleep,’ now. Nice going.”

Yes, the training montages are straight-up cliches (This time he loads rocks into that tractor tire he drags around) and the story ventures into what can only be called melodrama, even if the melodramatic elements are largely true, or at least fact-based.

And the fight scenes and strategizing training sessions are well-choreographed and shot, the most instructive I’ve ever seen in an MMA movie. Yes, wrestlers do make some of the toughest foes in the octagon. “Notorious Nick” explains how.

I don’t want to oversell this, but “Notorious Nick” follows a formula and makes it work. Stay through the credits if you want to see the real Nick Newell in action.

MPA Rating: PG-13 for sports action/violence, and language

Cast: Cody Christian, Elisabeth Röhm, Cameron James Matthews, Barry Livingston and Kevin Pollack

Credits: Directed by Aaron Leong, script by Josh Campbell, Darrin Reed and Matthew Stuecken. A Lionsgate release.

Running time: 1:28

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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