Truth trumps in the main event

Resurrecting The Champ

on August 24, 2007 by Annlee Ellingson
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In a bit of a departure, political filmmaker Rod Lurie (TV's Commander in Chief , The Contender) inserts current-issues topicality into this drama set in the world of sports journalism. Inspired by a true story, Resurrecting the Champ follows the relationship between Erik Kernan (Josh Hartnett) and Battling Bob Satterfield, aka “the Champ” (Samuel L. Jackson), a once-great pugilist now residing on the streets of Denver. Struggling to get the attention of his editors, who have relegated him to bush-league events, Erik stumbles upon his “title shot” in the tale about a boxer who rose to “number three in the world” but now spars with cops and local hooligans.

With an actor as prolific and iconic as Jackson, it's sometimes easy to under-appreciate just how talented he is. Here, the same man who played such pop-culture touchstones as Jules Winnfield and Mace Windu undergoes a physical transformation—caked-on cosmetics and a stooped posture ravaging his face and body with time—so complete you forget momentarily that this is the guy who can make you quake in your boots by quoting the Bible. Even Jackson's voice—a high-pitched rasp—is a far cry from the booming baritone with which we're so familiar.

Among such familiar faces as Teri Hatcher, David Paymer and Kathryn Morris (TV's Cold Case ), Alan Alda turns in a likewise superb performance as Erik's boss, who compares him to a machine. “A lot of typing—not much writing. I forget your pieces while I'm reading them.”

When the article about Champ comes out, however, Erik soon realizes there's much, much more to the story. Before the ruse is revealed, he must choose whether to accept a lucrative and fame-inducing announcing gig with Showtime for which he would have to sacrifice his journalistic roots. (“There is no journalism anymore. There is no news,” says Hatcher's cable exec in a sly side comment on the current political climate. “The one thing people don't want is the truth.”) More devastating is disappointing his son, as Erik has chafed under the reputation of his own absent father, a legendary radio announcer with whom he's often confused.

Erik doesn't commit fraud on the level of Stephen Glass or Jayson Blair, who willfully deceived their editors and readers. Rather, Erik is himself deceived. And, without taking such a breach lightly, the character and the film take too long to come to the obvious solution. It's difficult to root for a character who, while innocent, exacerbates his situation by exaggerating with the immaturity of his young son. Worse is that his with-it wife (Morris) lets him.

As is necessary for the cinematic retelling of such a tale, events, most significantly the timing of the publication of the article, have been rearranged to heighten the drama (and demanded changing the protagonist's name from the original author's, lest ruining his reputation). Certainly such a move has raised the stakes. It has also presented challenges, here unsurmounted, to the narrative.
Distributor: Yari
Cast: Samuel L. Jackson, Josh Hartnett, Kathryn Morris, Alan Alda, Teri Hatcher, Rachel Nichols and David Paymer
Director: Rod Lurie
Screenwriters: Michael Bortman and Allison Burnett
Producers: Mike Medavoy, Bob Yari, Marc Frydman and Rod Lurie
Genre: Drama
Rating: PG-13 for some violence and brief language
Running time: 112 min.
Relesae date: August 24, 2007 ltd.
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