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Resurrecting the Champ
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by Todd LaPlace

"Mucho grande disappointment."
3 stars

A famous quote says that “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results is insanity.” While that’s technically not true (since it generally negates the whole idea of experimentation), it’s a concept not wholly without merit, especially when it applies to non-scientific mediums like, oh I don’t know, sports movies. “Resurrecting the Champ” is just like all the rest of those heartwarming tales about underdog and/or faded sports stars, just using boxing as its metaphorical sport of choice. In other words, while the picture might be nice to watch, if you haven’t figured out how it’s inevitably going to end within 20 minutes, then you might be the insane one.

During my time in film studies school, I was introduced to a little seen Billy Wilder film called “Ace in the Hole,” which, until very recently, wasn’t available on DVD. The film stars Kirk Douglas as an egotistical, knocked-down journalist who sees a mine collapse as an opportunity to write a series of weepy articles on the survivor still trapped under the rubble, all to regain the national attention and glorified reputation he’d lost. Douglas’s journalist even goes so far as to stall the rescue effort in order to keep the stories (and attention) going. It’s a poignant movie that exposes the dark side of journalism, where writers gain credibility and fame on the misery of others.

“Resurrecting the Champ” is no “Ace in the Hole.” The Rod Lurie-directed puff piece follows mediocre sportswriter Erik Kernan (Josh Hartnett) as he tries to get noticed with a story about a former boxer reduced to living on the streets of Denver. While the premise might sound similar (although less life-threatening for the boxer), it’s the details that separate the two on the quality spectrum. While “Ace in the Hole” shrewdly examines the lengths a man will go in order to boost his own selfish ego, “Resurrecting the Champ” never really gets much better than just another generic boxing movie. A good portion of the film’s second act is simply Champ (Samuel L. Jackson) relating his experiences in the ring in surprising detail for a man who spent his youth getting punched in the head.

Part of the film’s problem is that it never makes Erik a sympathetic (or even likable) character. After blandly covering another fight, Erik first encounters Champ while he’s getting beaten up in an alley by a couple of drunk assholes. He chases the guys away and goes to check on Champ, who casually mentions that he’s Bob Satterfield, an ex-boxer that was once ranked No. 3 in the world. Because he’s frequently disparaged by his editor (a terrific Alan Alda) for writing weak stories — “I forget your stories as I’m reading them” he criticizes — Erik sees Champ as an opportunity to advance beyond his small-time status, but apparently using someone else’s misfortune doesn’t extend far enough to actually psychically touch the guy. Erik just casually stands over Champ and continues to ask him if he’s alright, eventually slipping the man some money before backing away. How can we actually like Erik if he’s disgusted by the man that might save his career?

Also not helping matters is Erik’s distant relationship with his separated wife (Kathryn Morris) and young son (Dakota Goyo). The film never quite makes us understand what went wrong there, except to casually hint at Erik’s destructive obsession with his late estranged father, who coincidentally covered boxing on the radio. In trying to be a better father than his was, Erik actually overcompensates by trying to impress his son with fictional stories of his friendships with big time sports celebrities like Muhammad Ali and John Elway, a tactic that only an idiot would think is good.

Basing their story on a 1997 newspaper article by J.R. Moehringer (who was nominated for a Pulitzer for the article), screenwriters Michael Bortman and Allison Burnett have crafted a fine allegory of male relationships, especially those between a father and son. Champ’s story parallels Erik’s, as he has similar issues with his own son (just in case you missed the ham-fisted subtlety the first time around). It’s just too bad that they had to ruin their own story with a fictional twist that turns the movie into an investigative detective piece. After the story runs and Erik is vaulted to star status, questions surface on the accuracy of the article, mostly because almost everyone believes Bob Satterfield to be long dead.

Like “Zodiac” earlier this year, “Resurrecting the Champ” tends to focus on the wrong character, opting to ignore the more compelling one in order to follow the newspaper guy. In “Zodiac’s” case, the books that serve as the basis were actually written by Robert Graysmith, the cartoonist played by Jake Gyllenhaal, so unfortunately it was somewhat inevitable. “Champ” could have avoided that same mistake, largely by dropping this unnecessary twist that sways attention off Champ. Perhaps, though, this is not entirely Larie, Bortman and Burnett’s fault. Hartnett, who is still perhaps best known as one of the guys from “Pearl Harbor” or the abstinent guy from “40 Days and 40 Nights,” has about as much on-screen charisma as a brick wall. He never once suggests that he knows the first thing about being a sportswriter, which is made even more noticeable by Erik’s total lack of journalistic skill. I know there are things about the business that might be confusing, but figuring out that its good to have the person with the job title of “fact checker” review a story before it gets published shouldn’t be one of them, especially when fact checking has gotten easier with the invention of this little thing called the Internet. It’s for more than just porn now!

For his part, Jackson is a little more convincing as the washed-up fighter, although I have to admit that my throat and ears started to hurt just listening to him talk in Champ’s scratchy voice. Still, Champ has enough heart and soul to make a little aural pain worthwhile. He’s an admirable character, even when his past marks him as nothing more than a tragic nobody. Jackson is so good that he almost makes up for the rest of the film’s many shortcomings, but the melodrama is just a little too overpowering. Very early on, “Resurrecting the Champ” ceases to be a realistic story, opting to be a morality tale instead, which, in the end, is like much of Erik’s writing: good, but totally forgettable.

If you’ve read any other reviews of this movie, chances are you’ve seen more than a few sports clichés thrown in, especially in the last paragraph. Probably something about it being a knock out or not. I’m personally going to try and resist the urge for these last few sentences, but I don’t blame those that tossed a few around. This movie is so thoughtless and predictable that it hardly seems fair that we critics have to waste our precious time coming up with something original, just to tell you how completely trite this average little flick is.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=15689&reviewer=401
originally posted: 09/21/07 20:33:30
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2007 Sundance Film Festival For more in the 2007 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

5/31/09 R Lan Good idea for a movie. Horrible execution! Very disappointing 2 stars
1/11/09 Shaun Wallner Well made. 3 stars
10/23/07 William Goss Journalist-boxer parallel redemption tale grows too mawkish in final act. 3 stars
8/27/07 Danny G. Liked everything. A little shakey on J. Harnett's character development. But I liked it. 4 stars
8/27/07 frieda touching, wonderful, real. sorry, i like feeling! 5 stars
8/26/07 Private Not as good as it could have been due to average direction but worthwhile core. 4 stars
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  24-Aug-2007 (PG-13)
  DVD: 08-Apr-2008



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