|Resurrecting the Champ (2007)
Starring: Samuel L. Jackson,
Josh Hartnett, Teri Hatcher, Alan Alda, Peter Coyote
Director: Rod Lurie
There are so many things working against Rod Lurie’s “Resurrecting the Champ,” it’s surprising anyone would enjoy it. Based on the true story of L.A. Times journalist J.R. Moehringer, the film begs to ask the question, “how responsible is the writer who prints a lie he believes to be true?” Of course, to even get the audience on the side of the protagonist, you have to make him Superman in every other aspect of life. He needs to be good looking, incredibly charming and a good father.
Thank god Josh Hartnett is still around to fill such a role, because despite his obvious lack of talent, his middling performance is just enough to earn your respect and goodwill for a man who, quite honestly, doesn’t really deserve it. The film, on the other hand, demands more attention than you might think, and though it could have been so much better in the hands of a more capable director, this “Raging Bull”-meets-“Shattered Glass” sports drama takes the genre to new heights.
Hartnett stars as Erik Kernan, a sports writer for the Denver Times who can’t seem to catch his big break. Despite his obvious desire to cover the more important sporting events, his boss (Alan Alda) sends him to the weekly boxing matches instead – either because his writing is so bland that he can bury it in the back of the sports section, or because his father was a well-respected boxing commentator. Whatever the reason, Erik is sick and tired of being treated like a stringer, but when he meets a homeless man named Champ (Samuel L. Jackson) claiming to be a former boxing champion, he realizes this might be his chance to finally make a name for himself. The man in question isn’t any old boxer, either, but “Battling” Bob Satterfield, the former third-ranked professional fighter in the world who once fought against such names as Jake LaMotta and Rocky Marciano. His story is certainly one worth telling, but it won’t mean a thing if it isn’t true.
The problem with “Resurrecting the Champ” isn’t that it’s not interesting, but rather that the script focuses on all the wrong things. Though the story is just as much about Erik’s progression as a journalist as it is about Champ’s slow-but-steady downward spiral, the film tends to dedicate far too much time to Erik’s home life. True, Hartnett’s character is the main protagonist of the tale – and so it makes sense that we should want to see more from his world – but that doesn’t necessarily mean he’s the more fascinating of the two. In fact, Jackson is definitely more memorable, and while the one-note performance does get distracting after a while, it’s a shame we didn’t get to see more.
The veteran actor delivers a thoroughly entertaining depiction of those homeless men you see on the street that, while not exactly safe to talk to, tell some of the best stories you’ll ever hear. Everyone has probably come across a few guys like this sometime in their lives, but you also know that a lot of what they say isn’t true. And that seems to be the biggest issue with the film. Dreadful pacing aside (the film is about 20 minutes too long), if you don’t want to see a movie centered around one big lie, you’re not going to enjoy “Resurrecting the Champ.” If you can write it off as falsity for the sake of entertainment, however, this is one underdog that deserves a shot of its own.
It’s not often that a director is willing to admit his faults, but Rod Lurie does just that on the single-disc release of “Resurrecting the Champ." Along with his insightful commentary track, the DVD also includes a brief promotional featurette and interviews with the cast and crew. It’s not a lot, but after a terrible showing last summer, it’s more than any fan of the film could have hoped for.