Sources Say, "Meh"
Resurrecting the Champ is a great movie about journalism—maybe the best there ever was—because Resurrecting the Champ is mind-erasingly boring. It's a solid story about the newspaper business—specifically, about how a well-intentioned writer occasionally makes a mistake totally by accident, a mistake that is pretty much victimless and easily fixable with a retraction, so, like, there ya go. And on that front, it's a knockout—if only because watching it will render you unconscious for nearly two hours.
Josh Hartnett plays Erik, a Denver Times sports reporter whose dead pop was a boxing announcer back in the 1950s (which, given the present-day setting, seems way too early for someone Hartnett's age). Erik's been relegated to the boxing beat, where he churns out workmanlike prose his editor (Alan Alda) damns as instantly forgettable. Lack of talent doesn't stop Erik from wanting to be his dead daddy—beloved, important.
As luck would have it, one night after a fight Erik spies an old man (Samuel L. Jackson) in an alleyway being savagely beaten by frat fucks wanting to level "Champ, No. 3 in the World!" That's how the man—a former heavyweight contender, now a homeless punching bag swaddled in tatters—describes himself. So Erik does what all journalists do when they stumble across a good story: He interviews the Champ, reads about the Champ, watches some old film of the Champ and writes a story about the Champ—a story that makes Erik an instant star. Soon he's wooed by Teri Hatcher's Showtime exec, who wants his pretty face on TV and in her bed.
Only, Erik didn't do quite enough research. He relied on an editorial assistant who claimed there wasn't much to go on—a thin folder full of ancient newspaper clips and a single two-minute black-and-white videotape. He didn't conduct extra interviews and took the word of a single source who's been homeless for God knows how long and will likely say anything in exchange for the promise of restored fame, newfound riches or, at the very least, an occasional warm meal in front of a tape recorder. So, Erik discovers too late that his Champ has made him a chump. Happens all the time—the single-source story that comes back to bite the writer on the ass.
That's what Resurrecting the Champ gets right: the dull grind of reporting and researching and writing, and the dull thud caused by a mistake made during that wearying process. His crime wasn't intentional deception. It was merely that of the arrogant, frustrated pup who thought fame was due him before he'd hung a single skin upon the wall. Ace in the Hole this ain't; Sweet Smell of Success neither.
But director Rod Lurie, a former movie critic, can always find the overwrought in the mundane; his filmography (The Last Castle, The Contender, Deterrence) is stocked with bombastic movies in which a timpani's deafening rumble accompanies every sideways glance. He and the screenwriters—Allison Burnett, responsible for the saccharine Autumn in New York, and Michael Bortman, virtually unheard from since 1996's Morgan Freeman-Keanu Reeves pairing in Chain Reaction—portray Erik like some guilt-ridden evildoer who's perpetrated a great fraud. They demand a kind of teeth-gnashing and hand-wringing suffering of which Erik isn't worthy (and Hartnett isn't capable). Erik's wife (Kathryn Morris), from whom he's separated for nothing as interesting as an indiscretion (they can't communicate, yawn), tells him he's brought shame upon himself and the paper. Not hardly. The dude goofed, big friggin' whoop.
Billy Ray tried to turn Glass' fabrications at The New Republic into a thriller, and he wound up with Shattered Glass, a sardonic parody of All the President's Men—the editor chasing the lying writer who claims be a truth-teller till the end. Because Lurie doesn't have the benefit of such exciting raw material, he peddles that brand of male-bonding cinema in which a kid lets down his adoring elders even as he struggles to live up to the memory of the dead dad he never knew. In the 1980s and '90s, this particular cinematic subgenre had its own label: The Tom Cruise Movie. And, really, there is no better actor suited for the Top Gun Mach II or Pour Another Cocktail phase of his career than Josh Hartnett, who looks, at least, as deep as a drained kiddie pool.
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