Haymaker (USA, 2021)

VFX artist and commercials director Nick Sasso makes a great feature film directorial debut as well as his major acting debut in the lead role and he’s got some help along the way.

Nick Molloy is a former Muay Thai kickboxer who has now been working as a nightclub bouncer. One night, he sees the club’s performer, Nomi, assaulted by a patron. Nick viciously beats the patron down and loses his job as a result. As a gesture of gratitude, Nick is offered a job. He agrees to be Nomi’s personal bodyguard. However, it becomes a job he soon begins to regret as Nomi’s fame has led her to capitalize on that fame as well as pick up some bad habits.

As the two become closer, it is clear that Nick begins to get uncomfortable with Nomi’s partying and drinking. Everything goes down after she performs in Greece. It is clear that it becomes too much for him and he decides to quit his job. To find himself again, Nick decides to head back to Thailand and go back to his once lost passion of Muay Thai. Months have passed and Nick is gearing for the fight of his life as he makes his return to the ring. Will Nick be able to keep a focused mind when a familiar face returns?

This film was quite a surprise as it marked the feature film debut of Nick Sasso, a renowned visual effects artist and commercials director who brings his style and visual flair to feature films. For a first time doing a feature film, Sasso actually does a good job meshing emotional drama with one of his real-life passions in Muay Thai. Having studied the martial art/sport for fifteen years, this gave a chance for Sasso, who also makes his lead role debut, to prove himself as both an actor and on-screen fighter.

What helps drive the film is the excellent supporting cast. And the highlight is Nomi Ruiz, who plays Nomi, a trans singer who despite her hard-partying ways, has a soft spot for Nick. What’s very interesting with this is that the idea of having a trans actress in the role and with a few beats where it’s mentioned, the fact that Nomi is trans is never as emphasized as one would imagine. Sasso wisely takes a subtle route to the character and it helps that Sasso and Ruiz’s chemistry really drives the emotional impact of the film.

Veterans D.B. Sweeney and Zoe Bell make the most of their on-screen time alongside Sasso. Sweeney plays Nick’s brother who helps him as emotional support when needed while Bell plays a fight trainer and friend of Nick’s. As a bonus, Bell helped teach Sasso in the art of film fighting, making the transition an uneasy one when Sasso was injured during his climactic fight. Bell happily took over directing portions of the fight, which actually looks good thanks to a combination of Bell’s experience as a stunt performer and former kickboxer herself and Sasso’s visual flair.

Haymaker may not please everyone who would rather pick one genre over another. However, for a well-meshed emotional drama with an interesting climactic bout will likely enjoy this one. A worthy debut of Nick Sasso and it will be great to see another feature from him down the road.

WFG RATING: A-

Gravitas Ventures and Kamikaze Dogfight presents a Hood River Entertainment/HeroFace Productions film. Director: Nick Sasso. Producers: Nomi Ruiz, Nick Sasso, and Andrew van den Houten. Writer: Nick Sasso. Cinematography: Brent Johnson. Editing: Nick Sasso.

Cast: Nick Sasso, Nomi Ruiz, D.B. Sweeney, Zoe Bell, Udo Kier, John Ventimiglia, Kathryn Kates, Ty Hickson, Olan Montgomery.

The film will be in select theaters, On Demand, and Digital on January 29.

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