*** out of *****
September is usually a period of limbo for the movies. The onslaught of popcorn-friendly summer blockbusters is over and the serious-minded potential Oscar-nominees are still a couple months away. In between, we have movies like “Resurrecting the Champ”; movies that are well-intentioned middleweights at best and tepid time-wasters at worst.
“Resurrecting the Champ” belongs to the former category. It is by no means a bad film, boasting an engaging story (based on actual events) and a solid performance from Samuel L. Jackson. Unfortunately, “Champ” also features a script that is dry, sentimental and clich/d, with a merely adequate performance by Josh Hartnett.
The film follows Erik Kernan Jr. (Hartnett), a sportswriter churning out halfhearted stories at the rate of almost 200 per year. His editor, played by Alan Alda, tells him “I forget your stories as I’m reading them.”
One night after covering a boxing match, Erik encounters a homeless man (Jackson) who claims to be “Battling” Bob Satterfield, a former boxing champ once ranked number three in the world.
Erik begins to spend time with Satterfield and becomes convinced that the story of this has-been pugilist is his ticket to a more successful career.
The best part of “Resurrecting the Champ” is Jackson’s performance; he completely disappears into the part of Satterfield.
He sports graying dreadlocks and his face looks cracked and lined – the result of years eking out a living on the streets and his dry and reedy voice, despite being reminiscent of Tyrone Bigguns’ on “Chappelle’s Show”, sounds appropriately haggard.
The effect of this physical transformation is that Jackson, who has given several iconic performances in his career, is able to convince us of his character’s absolute reality.
Less convincing or compelling is Hartnett. Erik, the audience learns early on, has a penchant for bending the truth to suit his purposes. He tells a magazine editor he has a story about Satterfield lined up even though he has only met Satterfield once, and he likes to brag to his six-year-old son that he’s friends with a bevy of sports celebrities – a claim that is patently exaggerated.
Unfortunately, Hartnett is never able to project the confidence into Erik’s character so that his white lies seem persuasive. And the scenes between him and his son are almost unbearably sentimentalized.
The film takes somewhat unexpected left turn in its second act, which helps to keep afloat a story that comes drastically close to drowning in clich/s.
But the script, which wants to provide a serious look at truth, modern-day journalism and the bond between father and son, only succeeds in coming off as self-important and stuffy.
So, while “Resurrecting the Champ” once again proves Jackson’s acting chops, it also confirms that the late summer and early fall months are a time of doldrums for movie lovers.