The latest from former film critic Rod Lurie ("The Last Castle", "The Contender"), "Resurrecting the Champ" stars Josh Hartnett as Erik, a struggling young sports reporter who - early in the movie - comes upon a group of kids beating up on a homeless person in an alley. Erik's writing career is on the skids, but when he finds out that the homeless man is former boxing great Bob Satterfield (Samuel L. Jackson), he decides to try and see if the boxer's story can take his career to another level.
Upset with his current editor, he decides to shop his ideas for a story to another editor, who's heard it all before until he gets to the story of an ace boxer who's fallen on hard times. Pulling the story together as the man shares his memories, after the story goes to press, Erik finds out that his subject may not exactly who he thinks he is. As disappointed as he is in himself, he's more dismayed to find he's let down everyone he's cared about - especially his son.
"Resurrecting the Champ" does certainly offer a few positives, such as the fact that Hartnett actually now seems to be trying to act rather than just wandering through the frame doing that squinty-eyed thing he used to do. Hartnett's Erik is earnest, sincere and ambitious, looking for appreciation and only finding his desire for it leads him off the professional cliff. Jackson, Alan Alda and others provide fine supporting efforts, as well.
The problem with the picture is that it's simply slow - we see the "twist" coming and the talky film doesn't have much to go on in the way of plot. "Shattered Glass" went over this ground in a way that had greater power and urgency. Lurie's film, on the other hand, is a little too low-key (writing may be a demanding field, with deadlines and whatnot, but the office Erik works in seems oddly quiet) for it's own good. While I understand how the Hartnett character wants to make his son proud, this aspect of the film just isn't developed beyond the basic threads. There's also another element with a sleazy network exec (Teri Hatcher) that just feels corny and a little over-the-top.
The director doesn't exactly redeem the film in the last quarter, either, as the picture not only goes on past an appropriate end point, but turns overly sentimental - something the first 3/4ths of the movie isn't. There's also a hint of a romantic interest in a co-worker (Rachel Nichols, good in a very minor part), but that ends up going nowhere.
Overall, "Resurrecting the Champ" sees Hartnett continuing the surprising transformation into a more serious and interesting actor, but the material seems rather ordinary (although the story - which is apparently true - could have been interesting in other hands) and the pacing is off. I've liked Lurie's films in the past and while this one isn't without moments (and some good performances), it's a weaker effort.
VIDEO: "Resurrecting the Champ" is presented by 20th Century Fox in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. The screening copy of the film that was provided offered okay image quality, with average sharpness/detail and some minor artifacting. Colors looked natural and seemed spot-on. Hopefully, the final/retail copy of the DVD will have better image quality than the review copy.
SOUND: The film's Dolby Digital 5.1 presentation didn't veer away from being a standard sound mix that met with expectations, given the material. The surrounds largely remained silent, aside from some ambience during a few scenes. The majority of the audio is spread across the front speakers. Audio quality is fine, with crisp, well-recorded dialogue.
EXTRAS: Director Rod Lurie offers a commentary track for the movie. He announces at the opening his desire to offer an informative and educational track and - as with his commentaries for his past films - once again offers a terrific, honest discussion. We learn a great deal about the development of the project, elements Lurie felt worked - and some that didn't, working with the actors, casting, what attracted him to the project and more. We hear more about these topics in the "making of" featurette and cast/crew interviews included.
Final Thoughts: I liked the performances and the story is potentially interesting, but Lurie delivers a film that lacks urgency and offers a last quarter that both takes a little too long to wrap and starts to suddenly become sappy. Rent it.
The Film C+