For better or worse, Notorious Nick is an entirely straightforward inspirational sports drama. Bolstered by the natural charisma of gorgeous leading man, Cody Christian, real-life one-armed MMA fighter Nick Newell gets the Hollywood treatment. Filmmaker Aaron Leong, whose sole other directing gig was 2016 comedy Mamaboy, does a terrific job staging enthralling combat scenes. This little action/drama feature has charm, cheese, and fun wrapped up in a tidy bow of feel-good entertainment.
Nick (Christian) is used to being bullied about his disability. At a young age, an obnoxious kid detaches his arm, and Nick is quick to snatch it back to smack him in the face with it. Nick finds a friend in Abi (Cameron James Matthews) as they bond over their mutual love of wrestling. They wrestle together in high school— Abi gives him a hug when he loses his first match, the truest sign of brotherly love. Abi and Nick’s mother (Elisabeth Röhm) are his most avid supporters.
Years later, Abi introduces Nick to the madcap world of mixed martial arts. It becomes a true underdog tale, with Nick getting a fair share of full-on Rocky montages. The promise of getting paid for matches seems too alluring to resist, and Nick is quickly swept up in the breadth of it all. Cheesy lines like “You’ve just witnessed one of the greatest upsets in sports history”, or “If you don’t believe in yourself, why would anybody else?” are part of the package. You can either embrace the film’s tone, or get frustrated by the simplicity of the script.
Earlier this year, inspirational wrestling drama Triumph (starring Breaking Bad’s RJ Mitte in the lead role) made headlines for all the wrong reasons. Terrence Howard sued for using his celebrity on every piece of promotional material, but I think a lot of it had to do with the extremely poor quality. That movie was the closest comparison of something I have seen recently. However, I am happy to report that Notorious Nick is infinitely better than Triumph in just about every way one could imagine.
While I can’t say if Notorious Nick is a film I will remember and hold dear as we approach the year’s end, it accomplishes exactly what I wanted out of it. I know Cody Christian’s abs, satisfying dramatic highs, and an end credits that catches us up with the real Nick Newell were reason enough to keep me invested. Come for the fighting; stay for the feel-great vibes.
Notorious Nick punches its way to select theaters and rental services on August 6th. DVD and digital follow on Tuesday, August 17th, from Lionsgate.