Sources Say, "Blah"

Resurrecting the Champ gets journalism right, and that's a grind.

Resurrecting the Champ Samuel L. Jackson Josh Hartnett Directed by Rod Lurie; Written by Allison Burnett and Michael Bortman; Starring Samuel L. Jackson, Josh Hartnett, and Kathryn Morris; 111 minutes; Rated PG-13; Opens Friday
Makin' like Daddy: Josh Hartnett gives ringside congrats to Jesse Lipscombe.
Makin' like Daddy: Josh Hartnett gives ringside congrats to Jesse Lipscombe.
Resurrecting the Champ is a solid portrayal of the newspaper business -- specifically, of how a well-intentioned writer occasionally makes a mistake totally by accident, a mistake that is pretty much victimless and easily fixable with a retraction.

If it sounds mind-erasingly boring, that's because it is.

Josh Hartnett plays Erik, a Denver Times sports reporter whose dead pop was a boxing announcer back in the 1950s (which, given the present-day setting, seems way too early for someone Hartnett's age). Erik's been relegated to the boxing beat, where he churns out workmanlike prose his editor (Alan Alda) damns as instantly forgettable. Lack of talent doesn't stop Erik from wanting to be his dead daddy: Beloved. Important.

After a fight one night, Erik spies an old man (Samuel L. Jackson) being savagely beaten in an alleyway by frat fucks who want to level "Champ, no. 3 in the World!" That's how the man -- a former heavyweight contender, now a homeless punching bag swaddled in tatters -- describes himself. So Erik does what all journalists do when they stumble across a good story: He interviews the Champ, reads about the Champ, watches some old film of the Champ, and writes a story about the Champ -- a story that makes Erik an instant star. Soon he's wooed by a Showtime exec (Teri Hatcher), who wants his pretty face on TV and in her bed.

Only Erik didn't do quite enough research. He relied on an editorial assistant who claimed there wasn't much to go on -- a thin folder full of ancient newspaper clips and a single two-minute black-and-white videotape. He didn't conduct extra interviews and took the word of a single source -- a guy who's been homeless for God knows how long, who would likely say anything in exchange for the promise of restored fame, newfound riches, or even just a warm meal in front of a tape recorder. So Erik discovers too late that his Champ has made him a chump. Happens all the time -- the one-source story that comes back to bite the writer on the ass.

That's what Resurrecting the Champ gets right: the dull grind of reporting and researching and writing, and the dull thud caused by a mistake made during that wearying process. Ace in the Hole this ain't; Sweet Smell of Success neither.

But director Rod Lurie, a former movie critic, can always find the overwrought in the mundane; his filmography (The Last Castle, The Contender, Deterrence) is stocked with bombastic movies in which the timpani's deafening rumble accompanies every sideways glance. He and the screenwriters -- Allison Burnett (Autumn in New York) and Michael Bortman (Chain Reaction) -- portray Erik as if he's some guilt-ridden evildoer who's perpetrated a great fraud. They demand a kind of teeth-gnashing and hand-wringing suffering from Erik that his crime doesn't merit (and which Hartnett isn't capable of delivering). Erik's wife (Kathryn Morris), from whom he's separated due to nothing interesting (they can't communicate, yawn), tells him he's brought shame upon himself and the paper. Not hardly. The dude goofed. Big friggin' whoop.

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