If “Resurrecting the Champ” were a prizefighter, he’d be soft around the middle. Although helmer Rod Lurie circles a lot of thorny issues in this morality tale of a middleweight contender-turned-homeless vagrant and the reporter who rescues him from obscurity, the plan of attack is overly sentimentalized and the execution is slack. If not for Samuel L. Jackson’s performance as the ravaged boxer, “Champ” would be of limited interest.
Josh Hartnett is Erik, a sports reporter for the Denver Times who’s been eclipsed by the two people closest to him — his late father, a legendary sports broadcaster, and his estranged wife, Joyce (Kathryn Morris), who’s simply the better journalist. Erik wants off the boxing beat, but his editor, Metz (Alan Alda) wants him where he is. When Erik happens upon Champ (Jackson) one night and rescues him from a beating by thugs, he thinks he’s found the story that will get him off the sports pages, into his paper’s magazine and out from under the shadow of his father and wife.
When Jackson is onscreen, the movie floats and stings. Champ is funny, observant — he predicts a longshot knockout when Erik takes him to the local fights — but he’s clearly been hit too hard, and too often. By raising his voice to a higher register than normal, Jackson makes Champ seem even more ephemeral than he would be, a ghostly man who lives in his dubious memory and regales Erik with stories that could just as well be myth as truth.
Erik is a well-written part; screenwriters Michael Bortman and Allison Burnett deftly capture a bruised ego who is just short of ruthless as he tries to convince Champ to tell him his story, committing the little lies and exaggerations of a journalist who’s helping himself, while trying to convince everyone he’s performing a service to his subject. Hartnett, though, makes Erik far less complex than he should have been, and when the movie reverts to him, it develops a weakness in the knees.
Well-edited and featuring convincing fight scenes choreographed by Eric Bryson, “Resurrecting the Champ” has a washed-out look that doesn’t complement its characters; Jackson’s champ is supposed to look like death, but Kathryn Morris, whose hair looks like it weighs more than she does, wilts under Adam Kane’s anemic camera. The bigger problem, however, is Lurie’s belaboring of what are really simple issues of personal integrity and public honesty that shouldn’t take a full 12 rounds to get across.