By Michael Clark
While some would go out of our way to avoid watching a real boxing match, the sport itself has provided the basis for many classic films.
"Million Dollar Baby," "Cinderella Man," "Raging Bull" and "Ali" are among titles that use boxing as the backdrop for deeper, more resonant side stories, and - for about half the time - so does "Resurrecting the Champ."
Based on an article by Los Angeles Times columnist J.R. Moehringer, the movie works on all levels when it's zeroed in on the Champ (Samuel L. Jackson), a former world-ranked prizefighter-turned-homeless bum living in a Denver alley.
The Champ rummages through trash bins for his daily bread, and every now and then grabs a free meal at the local soup kitchen. At night, he suffers through beatings at the hands of drunken frat boys who use him as a punching bag. On one of these evenings, the Champ is rescued by fledgling sports writer Erik (Josh Hartnett), who takes pity on him, buys him a cold beer and gives him $20.
After the Champ tells the sportswriter who he really is, Erik gets one of his rare bright ideas. He'll do a magazine piece on the downfall of a legend, raise his own profile and graduate beyond the second-rate status afforded to him by his editor Metz (Alan Alda).
Erik writes the article, gets it published and hits the big time. His good looks even land him a job as a commentator on Showtime and possibly into the bed of his new, type-A boss (Teri Hatcher).
With all of this happening within the first hour, we know there has to be a big twist coming soon and, sure enough, it does. Without giving anything away, the story goes from being a character study of the Champ and into one of journalistic ethics. Erik didn't create a fiction out of thin air like Stephen Glass or Jayson Blair, but did something equally as stupid.
If director Rod Lurie and his screenwriters Michael Bortman and Allison Burnett had stuck with the two principal plot points throughout, the movie would have packed a much bigger wallop. Instead, weak third and fourth storylines are introduced, and the filmmakers toss the job of carrying the film to Hartnett, an actor woefully unable to do so.
Handsome in a robotic and mannequin sort of way with a personality and talent to match, Hartnett brings down the quality of every film he's in by at least half. Not making it any easier for Hartnett this time out is that his Erik character is portrayed as a soulless, mostly clueless opportunist.
He also makes wimpy, half-hearted attempts to get back with his estranged wife Joyce (Kathryn Morris) and tries to wow his impressionable son Teddy (Dakota Goyo) with a string of bold-faced lies. The Erik character would have been better played by anybody other than Hartnett, preferably someone with at least a little edge and some hint of danger.
Expect to see great things from Jackson, Alda, Morris, Hatcher and David Paymer as the magazine honcho, but don't be surprised if the homogenized, white-bread Hartnett presents too much of an amateurish distraction for you to ignore. (Yari Film Group)