Few modern-day scoundrels evoke such righteous indignation as deceiving journalists. The fabrications of memoirist James Frey and New York Times reporter Jayson Blair created scandals and angry responses larger than anything they ever wrote about. Condemning someone who lies in print is easier than grappling with the moral complexity of, say, drug addiction or the Iraq war.
In Resurrecting the Champ, director Rod Lurie tries to take a tale of ethical lapses in journalism and spin it as a story of old-fashioned redemption. In dramatizing the symbiotic relationship between a down-and-out boxer (Samuel L. Jackson) and an ambitious reporter (Josh Hartnett), Resurrecting the Champ shows undue sympathy for one of the most irritating, self-pitying film protagonists imaginable. It contrasts sharply with Shattered Glass, which recounted New Republic reporter Stephen Glass' misdeeds, but never insisted we like him.
Based on a Los Angeles Times magazine article of the same name by J.R. Moehringer, Resurrecting the Champ presents fictional Denver Post reporter Erik Kernan (Hartnett), a sportswriter who values quantity over quality in his work and lives in the shadow of his deceased father, a radio sportscaster with a gift of gab. One night Kernan rescues a homeless man from a beating, and when the victim claims to be famed boxer Bob Satterfield, Kernan believes he may have found a story that can take him to the big time. Jackson switches his usual swagger for a wounded, cagey performance with a distractingly high, piping voice that hints at how far the boxer has fallen.
Before directing such films as The Contender, Lurie was an entertainment journalist, so it's surprising that Resurrecting the Champ presents such an unpersuasive portrait of the newspaper business. Alan Alda and David Paymer offer plummy portrayals of, respectively, Kernan's immediate boss and the Denver Post magazine's editor, and at least the rivalries between their in-house fiefdoms ring true. Even given the film's premise, though, Kernan's reporting and research techniques turn out to be lazy beyond belief; it's as though Kernan, allegedly a workhorse on the sports desk, doesn't know how to operate a basic search engine.
Almost literally overnight, Kernan's story makes him a celebrity; he gets a TV gig as a ringside reporter for Showtime, thanks to a TV executive/temptress (Teri Hatcher, putting some spark in a tediously clichéd role). Just as quickly, Kernan faces a reversal of fortune when fatal flaws in his story become public. Lurie doesn't savor the justice of Kernan's rise and fall, but honeys the story in homilies about fathers and sons, the importance of telling the truth and the way boxers, like writers, stand alone, yadda yadda. Hartnett proves too placid a performer to make Kernan's moral shortcomings intriguing. Throughout Resurrecting the Champ, his self-important voice-over narration alone is sleepy enough to put you down for the count.
Resurrecting the Champ. 2 stars. Directed by Rod Lurie. Stars Samuel L. Jackson, Josh Hartnett. Rated PG-13. Opens Fri., Aug. 24. At area theaters.
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