What to Watch Verdict
'Haymaker' cares only about an audience of one.
🥊Nomi Ruiz is doing her best with what she's got to work with.
Nick Sasso is a terribly uncharismatic lead.
🥊The plot sits in a holding pattern for most of its mercifully short runtime.
🥊The third act transformation into a 'Rocky' knockoff borders on nonsense.
I hope it’s not too controversial to assume that films should be made with an audience in mind. It can be a niche audience, a wide audience, even a very personal and idiosyncratic audience, but I hope we all agree that films should have an audience in mind for their consumption. Haymaker is a slight little film, but it clearly doesn’t give a damn about having any sort of audience. Or rather, it cares about an audience of one: writer/director/editor/star of the film, Nick Sasso. This is a movie made for him and for him alone, whether for the experience of making the film in the first place or the vicarious fantasy it allows Sasso to live through his character. The result is less a fully conceived narrative than the general shape of one that hopes to scrape by on the shallow imitation it makes of films that trod before it to much greater effect.
Nick Sasso plays a self-insert protagonist so blatant that he doesn’t even bother to change his first name, a former Muay Thai fighter getting work as a nightclub bouncer. When he one night saves club performer Nomi (played by Nomi Ruiz, perhaps better known by her pop star moniker Jessica 6), he’s enlisted by the enigmatic beauty to act as her personal bodyguard. She takes him with her while she tours beautiful locales and a will-they won’t-they romantic tryst develops as Nick is pulled ever further into Nomi’s teasing orbit.
To Nomi Ruiz’s credit, she’s giving her all to a character that is both obnoxiously shallow and enigmatic to the point of nonsense. The parties, meetings, and dinners to which she drags Nick along are almost all narrative dead ends punctuated by severe mood swings that never explore her inner life, yet Ruiz is good enough to sell this as a consistent personality, even if we aren’t privy to the significance of her life’s seemingly pointless dramas. However, Nomi’s lack of depth is understandable once you recognize her primary function in the film is to moon after Nick for no adequately explored reason other than Nick just being a nice guy who can roll with the punches.
There’s no softening this blow: Sasso is a horrendous actor, or at the very least is entirely incapable of directing himself. He has as much charisma as a wooden dummy and just as much personality. He wanders through scenes with oblivious aimlessness, led along by seductions that he wrote himself but cannot for the life of him perform as remotely romantically convincing. This romance is the one big selling point Haymaker hangs its hat on, and Sasso can’t even be bothered to make his character be… well, an actual character worth lusting after. There’s just nothing to him, either in dialogue or in screen presence. He’s a pure cipher, and not even Ruiz’s alluring glances can sell the chemistry she supposedly has with this void of personality.
You might wonder how Nick’s status as a former fighter plays into the story, but it largely doesn’t until the film realizes it hasn’t had any conflict and contrives for its third act into a weak Rocky knockoff. That’s a decision that makes all the more sense upon the realization that the most overused tool in Sasso’s narrative arsenal is the soft music montage. Whether he’s portraying his characters falling in love, finding strain in their relationship, or training for the big fight, no sequence can’t be enhanced by the wordless passage of time and set to melodious accompaniment. It’s like Sasso looked to Rocky IV’s overreliance on montage and thought “I can do that, but more so and with even less depth and without any noteworthy shots or sequences to make my film memorable.”
But that’s just it. This film isn’t meant to be memorable. Sure, it’s a fairly unremarkable time-waster, unlikely to ruffle anyone’s feathers as an egregiously bad film. For all its faults, it goes down smooth, but this isn’t a movie made for any kind of purposeful mass consumption. Sasso filmed himself getting seduced by a beautiful woman, and now we’re party to his softcore fantasy. That wouldn’t even be inherently objectionable if he’d bothered to make an interesting movie, to at least attempt to mask his blatant disregard for telling a story for anyone’s benefit but his own. Instead, our rental dollars are meant to finance his half-baked dreams in a product produced only for self-gratification.
Haymaker will be released on VOD on January 29, 2021.
Leigh Monson has been a professional film critic and writer for six years, with bylines at Birth.Movies.Death., SlashFilm and Polygon. Attorney by day, cinephile by night and delicious snack by mid-afternoon, Leigh loves queer cinema and deconstructing genre tropes. If you like insights into recent films and love stupid puns, you can follow them on Twitter.