Resurrecting the Champ
2007, PG-13, 111 min. Directed by Rod Lurie. Starring Samuel L. Jackson, Josh Hartnett, Kathryn Morris, David Paymer, Teri Hatcher, Alan Alda, Harry J. Lennix, Peter Coyote.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Aug. 24, 2007
Several morality plays vie for attention in Resurrecting the Champ, a story about a Denver sportswriter, Erik Kernan (Hartnett), who’s yearning to break free of his workmanlike reputation and pen a story that will make his editors sit up and take notice. At times, it’s also a story about the failure of journalistic ethics and fact-checking, as well as a cautionary tale about the blind regard with which we view our sports heroes. And it’s also a sentimental drama about fathers and sons and the emotional distances between them. Though most of these narrative facets provide interesting fodder, none are satisfactorily developed creating a hodgepodge effect. Were it not for the solid cast performances, and in particular the showy Jackson performance as the Champ of the title, the visually bland movie would warrant little attention. Jackson raises his vocal register into a high-pitched rasp as the homeless, alcoholic ex-prizefighter whose cranium has clearly taken a few too many punches. Erik discovers Champ in a Denver alleyway, and falls hook, line, and sinker for his story about being the former middleweight champion Bob Satterfield. It’s a story that might finally impress his hard-to-please editor (Alda), who frankly dismisses Erik’s pieces as having “lots of typing but not much writing.” Erik is also stymied by following in the footsteps of his father, who was a legendary sportscaster, and his fears of becoming estranged from his son, who lives with his ex (Morris), who is a highly respected journalist at his paper (yet another tension: Which one of them is going to Career Day at their son’s school?). Soon, the pieces begin to unravel, and the errors caused by Erik having sacrificed due journalistic diligence to the demands of his ambition create a maelstrom that pushes the film toward Shattered Glass territory. Now diminished in the eyes of his adoring son and the legacy of his widely beloved dad, Resurrecting the Champ also threatens to turn into a modern male weepie. Resurrecting the Champ is anything but a standard boxing film, despite having a few good boxing sequences. One thing the film portrays spot-on is newsroom culture, perhaps because director Lurie (The Contender, and executive producer of TV’s Commander in Chief) is a former critic and entertainment reporter. Still, his depiction of a programming executive from the Showtime channel (Hatcher) as a unprincipled barracuda is extremely harsh. Resurrecting the Champ stays on its feet through all the rounds, but it never “floats like a butterfly.”