Resurrecting the Champ

Opens: August 24, 2007

Sundance Fim Fest 2007–After a decade of making disappointing features (see below), Rod Lurie finally begins to show some progress as a dramatist with “Resurrecting the Champ,” an old-fashioned, overwrought, calculated saga that seemed to have been made with an eye on the box-office.

Premiering at the Sundance Film Festival in January, “Resurrecting the Camp” divided film critics. Some liked better the sports meller, whereas others favored the newspaper yarn, though most agreed that neither is particularly fresh or insightful.

It does help that the two lead characters, an aging former boxer and a young reporter, are played by pros like Samuel L. Jackson and the likable Josh Hartnett, though, despite growing experience, the latter is too bland and still lacking acting chops.

Lurie is a former critic, and as such, must have watched countless Hollywood sports and news melodramas. As he showed in “The Contender,” Lurie has a good nose for timely issues, except that to see a drama about an ambitious but immoral newspaper reporter is not exactly news. The public has become so cynical about journos that thematically there is not much new in this crowd-pleasing potboiler.

Based on J.R. Moehringer's a true story that first appeared in the Los Angeles Times, and scripted by Michael Bortman and Allison Burnett, “Resurrecting the Champ” (a good title) is the tale of a reporter's fall from gracenot unlike the Billy Ray's “Shattered Glass,” a far superior film, about the New Republic pathological liar journalist Stephen Glass (well played by Hayden Christensen).

Hartnett plays Denver sports reporter Erik, an over-achiever careerists (he produces more contents than his colleagues), itching for a brighter future in his newspaper's magazine section; he's lured with an offer from a producer (Teri Hatcher) with a major TV network. As you know from numerous films, eagerly ambitious pros pay a price for their immoral and amoral drives.

Soon Erik's editor Metz (a solid Alan Alda) complains that Erik's writing is sloppy, listless, even mechanical. Careless with researching his subjects, Erik shows both ignorance and superficiality when it comes to basic facts.

This is evident in his first encounter with Champ (Jackson), who claims he is the noted contender Bob Satterfield. Erik has never heard of Satterfield, and doesn't even bother to check the validity of the man's story. Clearly Erik is not very bright-any person who meets someone like Champ would have rushed to his computer and google his name. Instead, Erik is so happy to have found a good story that he becomes more blas and even disrespectful.

Aged by makeup and wearing a gray wig, Jackson plays another version of a homeless, drunk, crazy man that he did in Kassi Lemmon's sophomore jinx, “Caveman's Valentine.” Satterfield is also a victim, someone the local boys beat up just for fun. But he still is sober enough to know a good listener and sucker when he meets one like Erik. There are also benefits to be had for his cooperation; Erik hands him out generously food and money.

Like in his previous films, Lurie can't locate the locus of his drama is, so in the film's second half of the film, story switches to Erik, who is far less interesting and more predictable character than the Champ, not to speak of the inexpressive turn given by Hartnett, who simply cannot carry a movie on his broad and attractive shoulders.

Too bad that Lurie is not content to keep his tale within the confines of the newsroom, for there is much more drama there, particularly when the Champ's story takes on an unexpected life of its own-not unlike other Hollywood features, say Capra's “Meet John Doe,” or more recently “Absence of Malice.” (In his immorality, stupidity, and carelessness, Harnett's Erik reminded me of the same “qualities” that Sally Field had as a journo in the above Sydney Pollack's 1981 picture).

Unfortunately, we get to know too much bout Erik's domestic life, his estranged wife Joyce (Kathryn Morris), and his relationship with his son Teddy (TV's Dakota Goyo in his feature debut). Turns out Erik is not only a lousy professional, he's also a lousy dad. He feeds Teddy with fabricated stories about celebrities; no wonder the boy is disappointed and disrespectful.

The yarn's redemption element is so formulaic and predictable that you wished the ending were more ambiguous or open-ended. But understandably, having made three commercial flops in a row, and a TV series that didn't last long, Lurie knows all too well the market value of a sentimental, upbeat denouement.

Credits

Rated PG-13.
Running Time: 111 minutes

Yari Film Group
Directed by: Rod Lurie
Screenplay: Allison Burnett, Michael Bortman, from LA. Times Magazine article by J.R. Moehringer

Cast

Samuel L. Jackson, Josh Hartnett, Teri Hatcher, Kathryn Morris, Rachel Nichols, Alan Alda, David Paymer, Dakota Goyo, Peter Coyote, Ryan McDonald, Harry J. Lennix