The sports reporter in Resurrecting the Champ might just be one of the most incompetent journalists ever depicted on celluloid. Played with earnest vapidity by Josh Hartnett, he stumbles through a series of stunningly dumb moves that would tarnish his reputation as a blogger, much less a staff writer on a major daily. What is even stranger is that the film purports to be based, albeit loosely, on a real-life case.
As the film begins, Denver newspaper sportswriter Erik Kernan muses in a voiceover on the similarities of boxing and writing, adding that with both, "The truth is revealed and sometimes the results can be disastrous." The comparison is a stretch, like much of the tortured storyline that follows. And yet the line smacks of the sort of goofy portent that makes Resurrecting the Champ an eminently watchable slice of silliness.
Erik is easily the most irresponsible journalist to grace the big screen since Hayden Christensen whined his way through Shattered Glass. Our introduction to the hapless hero comes one evening when he rushes to the aid of an old homeless man being roughed up by some suburban punk kids. The oldster, played by Samuel L. Jackson, goes by the nickname "Champ," and he tells Erik that his real name is Bob Satterfield, a boxing great from the 1950s who faded into obscurity. Erik covers boxing but has never heard of Satterfield; he doesn't give Champ's pronouncement much thought.
Then again, Erik doesn't give much thought to much of anything. Chided by his snarky editor (Alan Alda) for writing that's devoid of personality, Erik tries assuaging his ego by pitching a story to Whitley (David Paymer), the editor of the paper's Sunday magazine. Trouble is, the reporter doesn't have anything particularly compelling to pitch. Desperate for a nibble, Erik eventually fibs that he has been researching a story about a onetime boxing legend now residing on the streets of Denver.
Whitley is shocked when Erik says the man in question is Bob Satterfield; Whitley was under the impression that Satterfield had died years ago. Smelling a great human-interest feature, the editor gives Erik his big break and commissions him to do the story on Bob Satterfield and his unfortunate fate.
You know where all this is going, of course, and it's to the credit of director Rod Lurie that the movie's inevitable revelations aren't necessarily a deal breaker. The director keeps the story percolating as Erik hangs out with the bemused Champ, peppering him with questions about his personal life and storied career.
Still, we are asked to swallow some big portions of disbelief. Although the film is inspired by a Los Angeles Times Magazine story by Pulitzer Prize-winning writer J.R. Moehringer, Erik's journalistic incompetence strains credibility. This is a reporter for a major daily whose entire story hinges on someone's identity, and yet Erik never confirms independently that his interview subject is, in fact, who he says he is. Erik never follows up on Whitley's belief that Satterfield is dead; is it really that difficult to verify someone's death? Adding insult to injury, there does not appear to be a fact-checker on the newspaper's staff.
Hartnett, one of Hollywood's blander leading men, has the thankless task of trying to make Erik Kernan interesting. Certainly, the character has more than his share of flaws. More ambitious than he is talented, Erik is an abysmal journalist. He is also an insecure dad. Having lived in the shadow of his late father, a celebrated radio sportscaster, Erik spins tall tales to his young son (Dakota Goyo) about being buddies with John Elway and Muhammad Ali.
By all rights, a raft of flaws should make Erik at least an intriguing protagonist. Mostly, he just seems pathetic and unworthy of our empathy.
Jackson fares much better, immersing himself in a role atypical for him. With graying dreadlocks and a battered face, Champ resembles a gargoyle more than he does a badass. The actor captures an enigmatic aura that gives the picture some much-needed depth.
There were no noticeable problems with artifacts, edge enhancement or other defects. Presented in anamorphic widescreen 2.35:1, the picture is solid, with clear details and crisp lines.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 mix features moderate use of surround speakers, with no discernible distortion or drop-out. Optional subtitles are in Spanish and English for the hearing-impaired.
No knockouts. A commentary by director Lurie is informative, but perfunctory. A four-minute, 24-second featurette has interviews with the director and cast members, but it is essentially promotional pabulum.
There are six minutes, 26 seconds of cast and crew interviews with Lurie, Hartnett, Jacskson, Alda, Kathryn Morris (as Erik's estranged wife) and boxing/stunt coordinator Eric Bryson. Viewers can watch each interview separately or opt for the "play all" function.
Rounding out the materials are trailers for Bonneville, The Darjeeling Limited, Feast of Love and The Final Inquiry.
If you can accept some whoppers about a reporter at his shoddiest, Resurrecting the Champ is a handsomely made, modestly involving flick about the lies people tell and what those lies reveal. Samuel L. Jackson is a particular standout going against type, but the film ultimately rests on the viewer's level of investment in the Josh Hartnett character. Subsequently, Resurrecting the Champ earns a split decision.