“Why is Josh Hartnett dressed like my Dad circa 1986?” and “What, in God’s name, is going on with his hair?” were the first, and most benign, questions I had during Resurrecting the Champ … and I ended up with a lot of them.
Based on a true story, Resurrecting the Champ begins with Erik Kernan, Jr. (Josh Hartnett), a journalist for the Denver Times, on assignment at a boxing match. Engrossed in the fight, Erik stares into the discombobulated eyes of a fallen, bloody boxer and begins typing feverishly on his laptop. Apparently he’s just as melodramatic as his voiceover suggests: “A writer, like a boxer, must stand alone. There’s nowhere to hide.” After the match, Erik encounters a pack of punks attacking a homeless man and shoos the kids way. Finding that he has helped the late, great boxing champ Battlin’ Bob Satterfield (Samuel L. Jackson), Erik is less than impressed, hands the “Champ” a crumpled bill and moves on.
Unfortunately for Erik, melodrama does not a reporter make, and his recent piece, like his life (ahem), is criticized by his editor, Metz (Alan Alda), as “a lot of typing and not much writing,” which, ironically, applies readily to Resurrecting the Champ’s sappily clichéd screenplay. Erik’s estranged wife, Joyce (Kathryn Morris), is also employed by the Denver Times. Despite her frilly pink wardrobe, Joyce is a shining star journalist in professional danger of being sullied by her handsome but hugely dull husband. It is implied that the fate of their marriage hinges on the success of his career. Compounded with a failing relationship, Erik has overwhelming daddy issues: To the world, the late Erik Kernan Sr. was an acclaimed sports radio announcer, but to his son, he was a father failure who cut out early and “made mom cry.” This wannabe tearjerker tidbit becomes the most important theme of the film, especially since each of Erik’s exaggerations are meant to convince his 6-year-old son, Teddy (Dakota Goya), that Erik is really-truly-swear-to-God not a loser. We’re meant to ride the tide of all these tears and feel sorry for Erik, but Hartnett seems incapable of eliciting pity for anything other than his poor acting skills. His fictional career, like his actual acting ability, is down for the count no matter how hard he seems to try.
Desperate for success, Erik sidesteps Metz and shops his doubtful skills to a national news magazine. When the interview goes badly, Erik mentions his recent interaction with the homeless ex-contender and nervously suggests the resurrection of their respective careers. In subsequent interviewing by Harnett’s character, Samuel L. Jackson plays Champ irritatingly well. The movie is such a piece of piss that a poor performance by Jackson may have actually been welcome. Unfortunately, his shuffling step and cracked falsetto are just uncomfortable enough to look and sound legit, so the film is lent a meaningless uppercut of authenticity that feels lost in the mushy, messy script.
Erik’s story is rushed to publication with little real research, but he is immediately rewarded with a live ringside commentator gig at Showtime. Teri Hatcher plays TV executive Andrea Flak as someone who won’t take any … um … flak. She gets right to the point, telling Erik that his journalistic prowess isn’t really as important as his pretty face because “everything comes down to entertainment.” Her mini-monologue hits home the idea that newspapers and honest-to-goodness journalism have become bloated has-beens in the modern age of the internet, though her character is given about as much significance as a round-card girl during a heavyweight match. Predictably, this interaction is the beginning of a slow-motion sucker punch that leads both Erik and Champ into the fray of a spiky sports scandal.
Resurrecting the Champ could have been a contender. Like, literally. Director Rod Lurie is responsible for The Contender, a movie that seamlessly blends political scenarios with believable emotional consequences. Resurrecting the Champ is no such animal. There are loose ends galore, and characters appear and disappear as they are needed with no real development or interest. While Samuel L. Jackson may be known for taking and ultimately making risky roles, he still couldn’t save this fixed fight.
Constance Howes is a book critic for Pajiba and a graphic designer living in Philadelphia. Her hobbies include making out and messing shit up. In short, she’s a firecracker. She blogs over at I Love You in the Face.
Resurrecting the Champ / Constance Howes
Film | August 26, 2007 | Comments ()