Writers and fighters

A moderately bad movie with some very good moments

BUM FIGHTS<br>Samuel L. Jackson takes a jab at the imaginary snake in front of him.

Samuel L. Jackson takes a jab at the imaginary snake in front of him.

Resurrecting the Champ
Starring Samuel L. Jackson and Josh Hartnett. Directed by Rod Lurie. Rated PG-13.
Rated 3.0

Resurrecting the Champ has big ambitions as a drama of redemption and recovery, but it fails to pay off on the largest of its maudlin promises. And given the sappy nature of some of those central premises, we’re perhaps lucky that this moderately bad movie has at least a few very good moments in it.

The title notwithstanding, boxing is less a topic than a circumstance here. The main character is an erratic young sports writer (Josh Hartnett) who discovers that a local homeless man (Samuel L. Jackson) was once a professional boxer of some note. The tattered pugilist, who calls himself “the Champ,” agrees to become the subject of a rediscovery article—a story the young writer sees mainly as a much-needed boost for his stalled writing career.

The two men become tacit partners in a dual drama of redemption, over which neither of them will have as much control as he pretends or wants to believe. Eventually it will emerge that the ex-boxer is not exactly the person he claims to be. But even more crucially, the writer is a needy, frustrated, would-be over-achiever whose ambitions merge into a talent for self-deception.

The film is at its best when it’s giving us sharply detailed glimpses into the world of contemporary journalism, with side-trips into television and the culture of celebrity. But between the two of them, the writer and the boxer are so overloaded with conveniently matching domestic issues—father/son relationships, marriage, infidelity, career and self-respect—that the dual drama comes off as something more like a double whammy.

Jackson is very good in the simpler and more riveting of the two main roles, while Hartnett can only maintain the same note of mildly befuddled earnestness through all of the unlikely convolutions the script imposes on his character. Alan Alda (as a wearily skeptical sports editor) and Teri Hatcher (as a craftily horny casting director) contribute special ironic bite to some of the film’s better scenes, and Peter Coyote does a vivid cameo as an old-time boxing trainer.

There may be some good reason why the writer’s estranged wife (Kathryn Morris) and his inexplicably devoted researcher (Rachel Nichols) look so much alike, but neither character seems credible, let alone worthy of the actresses’ apparent talents.