Not quite a contender, “Champ” aims high
As cautionary tales go, the sports-drama “Resurrecting the Champ” has a good moral and some compelling moments. It relies on a surprise roundhouse of a plot twist in an attempt to score a knockout… But alas, it only grazes. (And some may see it coming.) Even so, there are several praiseworthy discoveries to be had in a film that’s based on an article by former L.A. Times sportswriter J.R. Moehringer. (The film alters the original story for dramatic effect.)
Young journalist Moehringer is represented in the film by a character named Erik Kernan, (Josh Hartnett), who finds a homeless man who claims to be former top-ranked heavyweight contender “Battlin’ Bob Satterfield (Samuel L. Jackson). Destitute, hobbled, and pushing his shopping cart behind the Denver Coliseum, Battlin’ Bob babbles on about ancient glories and attempts to feebly fend off neighborhood punks looking to sucker punch the former champ.
Kernan sees a career-altering opportunity to write something of substance and serve notice to his boss (Alan Alda) that he’s more than a mere beat writer. He bonds with the down and out pugilist, gets enough stories to put together a cover story and is thrust into the limelight. Terri Hatcher does a nice turn here as an alluring, boozy infotainment channel exec trying to recruit Kernan.
But Kernan has issues with his copy editor and estranged wife (Kathryn Morris), though the film doesn’t clarify them well. More crucial to the story is a delicate relationship with his six-year-old son (Dakota Goyo). Seeking to impress the admiring boy, Kernan too often exaggerates the truth– which foreshadows the greater message of the film.
Jackson’s performance is nuanced and unique from his body of work, and provides the film’s main foundation. As he ages, Hartnett continues to increasingly resemble Tommy Lee Jones, and is likable and charismatic. But he remains hampered by a variety of distracting facial affectations–squinting eyes, pursing lips, etc.– that provide a constant reminder he is “trying” to act.
The storytelling is clunky. When it tries to establish the relationship between the boxer and the writer, some good dialogue ensues. But the film abandons the story in it its final act and focuses instead on the father-son relationship. Each of these narratives has merit, yet here neither is fully realized.
“Resurrecting the Champ” is a two star execution of a four star goal, and is therefore worthy of a viewing. (Probably as a rental.) No doubt a story about something as basic as journalistic honesty might seem wretchedly tame compared to recent tawdry sports headlines.
Integrity can still pack a quiet wallop.
Rated PG-13 for some violence and brief language.