A consistently intelligent (or at least bright), coherently constructed comedy that is on occasion a rather pointed critique of the American education system in the…
In the news business, there is an intoxication in making a big story your own. In "Zodiac," a cartoonist strays off his beat and tries to solve a string of serial killings. In Rod Lurie's "Resurrecting the Champ," a sportswriter stumbles on the story of a Skid Row drunk who used to be a contender. Erik (Josh Hartnett) has been told by his editor he is sloppy and lazy, and when he comes upon Champ, it's like a gift from heaven. The former heavyweight boxer (Samuel L. Jackson) has just been beaten up by some young punks, but harbors little resentment against them. He's talkative and tells Erik his story.
His real name, he says, is Bob Satterfield. At one time he was ranked No. 3. He even sparred with Marciano. Now he's a shambling mess, old, homeless, remembering past glories. A lot of boxers with his history would have had their brains scrambled, but Champ remembers the past in detail; alcohol is his problem. Erik senses what we reporters like to assure our editors is a "great story." We are not modest about reviewing our unwritten work.
Erik, separated from his wife (Kathryn Morris), has a son named Teddy (Dakota Goyo), whom he tells about all the celebrities he meets. All reporters meet celebrities, just like all detectives meet murderers, but you know you're a pitiful dad when you try name-dropping to impress a 6-year-old. The home life doesn't supply many of the film's best scenes, but I like the newspaper office performance by Alan Alda as Erik's editor. Have you noticed in recent movies that Alda has finally stopped looking so much like Hawkeye Pierce? It frees him up in his characters.
Jackson disappears into his role, completely convincing, but then he usually is. What a fine actor. He avoids pitfalls like making Champ a maudlin tearjerker, looking for pity. He's realistic, even philosophical, about his life and what happened to him. Hartnett is efficient enough, but doesn't have enough edges and angles on him to be a sportswriter. Robert Downey Jr. for sportswriter, Josh Hartnett for movie critic.