Resurrecting the Champ



PARK CITY -- Sportswriters need their athletic stars to be big for them to be big. That's the sports-talk wisdom that is flattened in this knock-out story about a skid-row, one-time contender and a mediocre sports writer who find they don't need their inflated glory-days lies to puff themselves up.

Charged by a knock-out performance from Samuel L. Jackson, this compelling story of manly redemption will deliver a winning boxoffice combination of word of mouth and ultimately step outside the generic ring of sports lore.

In this age of round-the-clock sports talk and super-sized sports events, journalists feed us the triumphs of the games and satiate us with the larger-than-life puffery of the winners. Ex-jock celebrities and egotistical experts rant incessantly about the moment's big victor, ever-hyping the transitory world of triumph. But we rarely see the winners down the road, when the arthritic knees collapse or the addled brain, jolted by concussions and poundings, no longer functions. "Resurrecting the Champ" shows the darker side of both the sporting world and its incestuous partner in profit and celebrity, the media who feed a couch-potato public the only news they want to hear about -- the glorious world of the winners.

In this sobering and uplifting tale, an ex-boxer (Jackson) shuffles in skid-row Denver, his brain cells sotted by beer but his will to live fortified by remembrance of his past, when he was ranked No. 3 in the world and sparred valiantly with Rocky Marciano. In his squalor he's stumbled upon by an end-of-the-bench sports writer (Josh Harnett) who needs a big story to revive his lackluster career. And the punch-drunk but still-cagey boxer serves up the inspiring words and tales of woe that scream "cover story" and certain glory days for the struggling scribe.

In short, we see the co-dependent nature of the relationship between sports figure and sports writer, and this is where "Resurrecting the Champ" delivers it's biggest story punch, an unexpected personal uppercut that knocks both men flat on their backs. Most gloriously, their "defeat" gives them the opportunity to discover personal strengths they never would have realized.

Jackson -- shuffling, bobbing, weaving, mumbling -- is terrific as the bedraggled champ. In his down-on-the-pavement strength, Jackson shows the innards of a man who recovers for one last go at life. As the sportswriter, Josh Harnett convincingly shows the stoop of a proud man carrying the weight of a legendary father on his back. As his high-achieving wife, Kathryn Morris is aptly overwhelming and supportive.

Smartly distilling their script from an L.A. Times magazine story by J.R. Moehringer, screenwriters Michael Bortman and Allison Burnett have woven a touchingly vibrant tale. Rod Lurie's direction is smartly measured, both robust and delicate, giving full whallop to the personal dimensions.

Technical contributions are top of the card, nicely framed by cinematographer Adam Kane's gritty compositions.

Resurrecting the Champ
Yari Film Group Presents
A Phoenix Pictures, Battleplans Prods. Production
A Rod Lurie Film

Producers: Bob Yari, Marc Frydman, Rod Lurie; Director: Rod Lurie; Screenwriters: Allison Burnett, Michael Bortman; Based on an L.A. Times magazine article by J.R. Moehringer; Executive producers: Mike Medavoy, Arnold W. Messer, Bradley J. Fischer, Louis Phillips, Frederick Zollo; Director of photography: Adam Kane; Editor: Sarah Boyd; Casting: Candice Elzinga, Rhonda Fisekci, Kathleen Tomasik; Production designer: Ken Rempel; Art director: Bill Ives; Costume designer: Wendry Partridge.

Champ: Samuel L. Jackson
Erik: Josh Hartnett
Flak: Teri Hatcher
Joyce: Kathryn Morris
Polly: Rachel Nichols
Metz: Alan Alda
Whitley: David Paymer
Teddy: Dakota Goyo
Epstein: Peter Coyote
Kenny    : Ryan McDonald
Satterfield Jr.: Harry J. Lennix.

No MPAA Rating, Running time -- 112 minutes