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Resurrecting the Champ

But Kernan, who lives in the shadow of his now deceased but still famous sports announcer dad, is cruising on autopilot and has been unable to find a voice that his editors think sings. Then he meets a homeless man who calls himself Champ (Samuel L. Jackson). The man claims to have been boxing champion Bob Satterfield. Kernan can't believe his good fortune. Everyone thinks Satterfield is dead but here he is and if Kernan can play his cards right, there's a cover-making story to be mined. But what happens after this chance encounter tests Kernan in ways that he could have never anticipated, and raises questions about about journalistic ethics and responsibility, as well as about the relationships of fathers and sons.

Going down for the count... Resurrecting the Champ (Yari Film Group)

Resurrecting the Champ allows actors Hartnett and Jackson a chance to break out from the roles they have usually been cast and affords them a chance to do an intimate drama thats sentimental but not sappy. Director Rod Lurie has been intrigued by questions of truth and honesty in his earlier film The Contender. In that film, Joan Allen played a woman whose bid for a vice presidential slot is challenged when some scandalous information about her past is released and she refuses to comment on it. In Resurrecting the Champ, Lurie leans more toward the issues of journalistic ethnics when reporting stories about other people. The film recalls some of the ideas raised by another true story, that of journalist Stephen Glass whose stories for The New Republic proved to be fabricated.

Lurie's Resurrecting the Champ tackles questions of journalism and a journalist's responsibility in a more interesting and satisfying manner than Shattered Glass. And maybe that's because Moehringer/Kernan proves to be a more interesting character than Glass or maybe it's because Lurie has a better handle on what he wants to say about those issues. Lurie wants to show a struggle and to suggest that reporters can be just as flawed as anyone when it comes to their judgment or assessment of a situation. What becomes interesting is whether or not Kernan is willing to accept responsibility as well as the consequences that come with it when a story goes wrong. Lurie's film actually works better as a study of a reporter coping with ambition and ethics as opposed to a story about Kernan and Champ or Kernan and his son.

Working from a script by Michael Bortman and Allison Burnett, Lurie does a nice job of letting the investigative part of the story play out. Along the way there's time for a marvelous cameo by Peter Coyote, almost unrecognizable as an old boxing manager whose memory may be as faulty as Kernan initial reporting. Hartnett strains his range a bit playing a father who wants desperately to impress his young son. Jackson chews the scenery with effective zeal as the gravely voiced and down on his luck champ. There a certain amount of cliche in the performance but Jackson is compelling nonetheless.

Resurrecting the Champ (rated PG-13 for some violence and brief language) feels more like a TV movie/issue of the week than a full blown theatrical feature. There's something small screen about it. Like Kernan in the first part of the film, greatness seems just beyond its reach.

Companion viewing: The Contender, Shattered Glass, Champion -----