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Resurrecting the Champ



Resurrecting the Champ
Two and a Half Stars
Genre: Drama
Rated: PG-13
Directed by:
Rod Lurie
Starring: Samuel L. Jackson, Josh Hartnett, Kathryn Morris, Alan Alda, Teri Hatcher, Dakota Goyo
Released by: Yari Film Group

In Short: Samuel L. Jackson gives the performance of his life in this tepid drama about fathers and sons, honesty and lies, and what happens to pro boxers after the glory ends.

Putting Up a Good Fight
But No Knockout Here

by Jenny Peters

The idea behind “Resurrecting the Champ” comes from a real article written in 1999 for the “L.A. Times Magazine" about a long-forgotten boxing contender from the 1950s who ended up living on the streets. Journalist-turned-director Rod Lurie (“The Contender”) seems a natural choice for this article to screen adaptation. Lurie has good intentions, expanding the story to feature facets of truth and lies, fathers and sons and the need to be the best. Unfortunately, he only hired one great actor in a film that desperately needed two to make it work.

The great one here is Samuel L. Jackson, who gives one of the best performances of his life as the down-and-out “Champ.” We learn early on that the “Champ,” consequently, was never a champ at all, but a top contender nonetheless. Greatly aged with makeup, a grey-tinged head full of dreadlocks, and an old man's voice and shuffle, Jackson is practically unrecognizable, a far cry from the ultra-cool, ultra-macho man he usually plays on screen. It is a completely believable characterization, filled with pathos and a yearning for life as it once was, back in his glory days.

Samuel L. Jackson and Josh Hartnett in Resurrecting the Champ
Boxing in Resurrecting the Champ

The problem with the drama comes in the casting of the central character, Erik Kernan, a Denver newspaper sports reporter played by Josh Hartnett. Kernan is a guy whose life is a mess. He struggles with career stagnation, a separation from his more-successful wife, and the loss of day-to-day contact with his young son. It's a role that needs an actor that compels us to watch. Unfortunately, once the initial impact of Hartnett's extreme good looks wears off, it is clear once again that he is just not a guy who can carry the weight of a serious drama on his shoulders.

It's painfully obvious in his scenes opposite his bosses at the paper, as Oscar nominees Alan Alda and David Paymer just blow him right off the screen. Even little Dakota Goyo, who plays Hartnett's young son, has a more compelling onscreen presence than the matinee idol, who always seems to be just going through the motions and not actually feeling the emotions.

Josh Hartnett and Kathryn Morris in Resurrecting the Champ
Josh Hartnett, Dakota Goyo and Samuel L. Jackson in Resurrecting the Champ

Other positive acting standouts in the film include Teri Hatcher as a pushy Showtime casting director and Peter Coyote as a very old, very Jewish boxing promoter who exposes the ugly underbelly of Kernan's sensational, career-making story about the Champ.

Overall, “Resurrecting the Champ” is a serviceable drama, but certainly not a knockout. The knockout inside it is Samuel Jackson's Oscar-worthy performance; too bad it is surrounded by Hartnett's curiously boring take on a man in career and family crisis.




PNJ082207
(Updated 02/22/11 BH)

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