Movie Review: Resurrecting the Champ

By Tom Houseman

September 2, 2007

I will fight you to the death to keep this wine!

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Director Rod Lurie was a film critic for several years before becoming a director. Based on his reputation of writing venomous reviews for Los Angeles Magazine, it is likely that Lurie would have panned Resurrecting the Champ, his new film. Of course, this is also based on the assumption that he has eyes, as it is impossible to watch Resurrecting the Champ without realizing what a terrible film it is. Lurie's latest is a "boxing as metaphor for life" drama that dances around the ring, rarely throwing a punch and never landing a meaningful blow. Far too long a bout, Champ drags on and on, desperately hauling a predictable and uninteresting plot through more than one round too many. Someone should have rung the bell early on this one, putting a mercy rule into effect for the sake of the audience.

Erik (Josh Hartnett) is a sports reporter who is looking for his big break, but is stuck covering boxing for The Denver Times. He finds a homeless man who turns out to be former heavyweight contender Battlin' Bob Satterfield (Samuel L. Jackson) and calls himself Champ. Erik realizes he has a goldmine on his hands and, with stars in his eyes, starts writing an article about Champ. But his ambition proves to be his downfall, as Champ has a secret that Erik was not expecting.


Some performances make you realize that only that actor could have played that part, and that a lesser performer would have ruined it. Josh Hartnett is the type of actor who proves you right. He is the lesser performer and he butchers this part. At least in The Black Dahlia he wasn't to blame, but here he is actually given a chance to give a good performance, and he throws it away. Erik is a complex character, living in the shadow of a father he despised, and trying to be a good father to his own son, despite being separated from his wife. Hartnett's performance has no depth and no authenticity; he plays charming with no charm, mournful with no grief, and anger with no passion. He is a non-entity in his role, and he strips Resurrecting the Champ of any chance of having an emotional impact.

What is most embarrassing is watching Hartnett on screen with Samuel L. Jackson. Jackson is the saving grace of the film, giving his best performance since Jackie Brown. His portrayal of Champ is so powerful and so filled with sadness, but his brief moments of joy light up the screen. He captivates you at every turn, and you understand how he caught the attention of Erik. Watching Jackson on screen with Hartnett is like watching a heavyweight boxing a preschooler; he blows Hartnett out of the ring.

Rod Lurie's work in film and television is known for its political overtones, but Resurrecting the Champ is more of a meditation on the meaning of the truth and how seemingly innocent lies can destroy you. For the audience, of course, Champ is less a meditation than it is a nap; this movie doesn't deserve your attention, and seems to realize it, so it never bothers trying. This is a fixed fight from the beginning, and the loser is anyone who is tricked into watching this dull and lifeless film, which pulls every punch and is void of emotional resonance. Instead, it seems content to wait for the bell to ring, which you will pray for too before long.



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