Resurrecting the Champ made about $3 million worldwide in its theatrical release. It's better than a movie that only made $3 million, but not much.
A movie like Resurrecting the Champ is hard to categorize, which is also its major problem. The trailer makes it look like something of a thriller. The posters give you the idea it’s an inspirational sports movie. There are lots of discussions of fathers and sons, is that the focus? How about the relationships between men and women? Samuel L. Jackson plays a homeless man; is it about their plight? Josh Hartnett is a reporter; is it about the media and how it shapes a story?
The movie is actually about all these things and more. Writers Michael Bortman and Alison Burnett, as well as director Rod Lurie, who did uncredited script work along with at least one other writer, throw a little bit of everything into their script and shake it all up in the hopes something meaningful will come out in the end. Very little does. Or more accurately, there are so many parts involved that nothing sticks.
Jackson’s involvement and his portrayal of the “Champ” mentioned in the title might lead you to think this is a movie about him. In reality, Hartnett’s Eric Kernan, Jr., a sportswriter for the Denver Times trying to get off the boxing beat and onto the Nuggets or the Broncos, is the focus. Kernan, the son of a legendary radio commentator, lives in his father’s shadow and does, as his editor Alan Alda points out, “a lot of typing but not much writing.” He also lies to his six year old son (Dakota Goyo) in order to make the boy think he is more important than is actually warranted. Kernan is splitting with his wife (Kathryn Morris), but attracting the attention of a researcher at the paper (the beautiful Rachel Nichols.) Oh, and he wants a job from David Paymer at the paper’s Sunday magazine.
That seems like a lot, and that doesn’t even get into Samuel L. Jackson’s Champ. Champ is homeless, alcoholic, and maybe a little punch drunk. He has to deal with frat boys who want to beat him senseless just for the hell of it. After one such beating, he is found by Kernan and reveals that he is Battlin’ Bob Satterfield, a former contender for the heavyweight crown. Kernan smells a good feature story and rushes to do something that will make his separated wife, idolizing son, and dead father proud of him. In turn he gives Champ a final bit of glory. After the story is published, making a Kernan a hot property, he learns of a few holes in Satterfield’s story and the movie right turns into journalistic ethics and father/son relationships.
It’s all just a little too much. Kernan’s relationships with his father, with his son, with his ex, with his co-worker, with his editor, with Champ and Champ’s past with his son and the frat boys is just more than one movie can hold. Heck, Teri Hatcher shows up for about five minutes as a caricature of a hard charging television executive and delivers a speech about how people don’t care about anything on television except how you look. It has nothing to do with the rest of the movie and just makes a movie that’s already a little too long, even longer. Some characters are dropped with almost no explanation or resolution and just flap there like the proverbial loose threads.
Hartnett, a good looking and personable guy, is consistently outclassed in scenes with Jackson, Alda, Paymer, Morris, and Peter Coyote as an old fight trainer. Perhaps a little too much was placed on his shoulders. A more tightly focused movie could have shown more of the excellent Jackson and dropped some of the subplots. Certainly just hitting either the father/son issue or the journalistic ethics issue, rather than both, would have cleaned things up considerably.
This is a straight forward drama rather than a Rudy-esque sports movie and, as such, it might have some appeal to those who are looking for something a little more grown-up. It’s hard to recommend due to the overabundance of plot threads and weak lead by Hartnett, but it’s not a complete disaster. Just ignore the trailer and the poster and know what you are getting when you sit down to watch.
It’s rare that I will rate a disc higher than the movie itself, especially on a disc that doesn’t have a large number of extras and where the movie isn’t that great. In this case, the commentary is better than most and deserves to be heard. Director Rod Lurie starts off explaining that he is going to point out the parts of the movie that didn’t work out so well. That certainly got my attention. A lot of directors will twist into verbal convulsions trying to justify every frame of their opus, but Laurie calls himself out more than a few times for mistakes. That doesn’t mean he is down on the movie; he speaks very positively of the actors and the movie itself. He’s also a funny guy and very pleasant. Other directors should be required to listen to this commentary before they start their own. I just wish it was at the service of a better film. Also, I wish he’d spent a little less time mentioning a television show he produced that must be coming out on DVD soon.
The remainder of the extras are fairly mediocre. The featurette is a brief five minutes and as vanilla as could be imagined. It’s obviously a promotional piece and does very little to add to the experience of someone who has already seen the movie. I guess if you watched it before watching the movie itself it might be worthwhile. It is also worthwhile to watch the included trailer before the movie, just to see how different the movie actually is from how the trailer portrays it. It is almost funny to watch the trailer afterwards and say, “Hmm, I might have actually enjoyed the movie the trailer seems to represent.”
The only other extra is optimistically called “Cast and Crew Interviews.” They are, indeed, interviews with Lurie, Hartnett, Jackson, and others, but they are more like interview segments. Very short segments. Extremely short. Some of them only last 20 to 30 seconds. It’s clear that they were intended for use in the featurette, with all of the interview subjects are in the same locale and wearing the same clothes as those used in the featurette, but got cut out for whatever reason. I think this is the first time I’ve seen all the extra snippets just thrown together and billed as “interviews.” It adds very little.
The movie was the first that I watched after buying a HD TV and Blu-ray player for the first time (although the version I watched was DVD, not Blu-ray.) The disc is sharp and clear and some of the historical boxing scenes shown had a beautiful look. The mood is set by the colors and tones used to show Champ on skid row contrasted with the fluorescent look of Kernan’s news room.
The DVD for Resurrecting the Champ might be of some interest to a segment of the home movie audience. Those who want a thoughtful drama and like to listen to the director’s commentary will probably enjoy what they are getting. The rest of the extras are not worth much.