As "The Champ," a raspy-voiced, homeless Denver man with his piled-high shopping cart, Samuel L. Jackson has the kind of role that actors usually kill for. Which is not to say that it's a role worth killing for. It's a chance to show off, not quite the same thing as playing King Lear.
Still, Jackson is engagingly hammy in "Resurrecting the Champ." (At times he recalls Anthony Quinn in "Requiem for a Heavyweight.") Acting opposite him is the resolutely staunch Josh Hartnett, whom no one will ever accuse of being a hambone. He's playing sports reporter Erik Kernan, who rescues The Champ from a gang of thugs and is convinced he's found the legendary heavyweight contender "Battling" Bob Satterfield, long presumed dead.
Erik, who has been toiling in the vineyards of bush-league sporting events, is the son of a renowned sports broadcaster and sees the Satterfield scoop as his shot at the big time. Meanwhile Erik's wife (Kathryn Morris) has asked for a separation and he fears he will become an absent father to his son, Teddy (Dakota Goyo), which is what his father was to him.
Specifics of this story are partially lifted from a magazine article by Los Angeles-based reporter J.R. Moehringer, but for the most part "Resurrecting the Champ" is pure Hollywood hokum – from the journalistic title shot conceit to the father-son life lessons. Director Rod Lurie, best known for "The Contender," at least has the theatrical instinct to milk this material for all it's worth.
For more than it's worth, actually. All the time Erik is bonding with The Champ, I kept wondering why Lurie, who has a storied background as an entertainment journalist, didn't take a more complex line on their relationship. The tango that typically plays out between a reporter and his subject is rife with solidarity and betrayal.
It's a subject that rarely gets filmed, or at least properly. ("All the President's Men" and "Absence of Malice" caught some of the flavor.) By skewing the film into a father-son inspirational saga, the filmmakers sell out the best possibilities in their material.
Lurie clearly wants "Resurrecting the Champ" to be "more" than a sports movie, or a newspaper movie. Ironically, he ends up with less. Grade: B–
• Rated PG-13 for some violence and brief language.