Josh Hartnett plays Erik, a Denver Times sports reporter whose dead pop was a boxing announcer back in the 1950s (which, given the present-day setting, seems way too early for someone Hartnetts age). Eriks been relegated to the boxing beat, where he churns out workmanlike prose his editor (Alan Alda) damns as instantly forgettable. Lack of talent doesnt stop Erik from wanting to be his dead daddy beloved, important.
As luck would have it, one night after a fight, Erik spies an old man (Samuel L. Jackson) in an alleyway being savagely beaten by frat fucks wanting to level Champ, No. 3 in the World! Thats how the man a former heavyweight contender, now a homeless punching bag swaddled in tatters describes himself. So Erik does what all journalists do when they stumble across a good story: He interviews the Champ, reads about the Champ, watches some old film of the Champ, and writes a story about the Champ a story that makes Erik an instant star. Soon, hes wooed by Teri Hatchers Showtime exec, who wants his pretty face on TV and in her bed.
Only, Erik didnt do quite enough research. He relied on an editorial assistant who claimed there wasnt much to go on a thin folder full of ancient newspaper clips and a single two-minute black-and-white videotape. He didnt conduct extra interviews and took the word of a single source whos been homeless for God knows how long and will likely say anything in exchange for the promise of restored fame, newfound riches, or, at the very least, an occasional warm meal in front of a tape recorder. So, Erik discovers too late that his Champ has made him a chump. Happens all the time the single-source story that comes back to bite the writer on the ass.
Thats what Resurrecting the Champ gets right: the dull grind of reporting and researching and writing and the dull thud caused by a mistake made during that wearying process. Ace in the Hole this aint; Sweet Smell of Success either.
But director Rod Lurie, a former movie critic, can always find the overwrought in the mundane; his filmography (The Last Castle, The Contender, Deterrence) is stocked with bombastic movies in which a timpanis deafening rumble accompanies every sideways glance. He and the screenwriters Allison Burnett, responsible for the saccharine Autumn in New York, and Michael Bortman, virtually unheard from since 1996s Morgan Freeman-Keanu Reeves pairing in Chain Reaction portray Erik like some guilt-ridden evildoer whos perpetrated a great fraud. They demand a kind of teeth-gnashing and hand-wringing suffering of which Erik isnt worthy (and Harnett isnt capable). Eriks wife (Kathryn Morris), from whom hes separated for nothing as interesting as an indiscretion (they cant communicate, yawn), tells him hes brought shame upon himself and the paper. Hardly. The dude goofed; big friggin whoop.
Billy Ray tried to turn Glass fabrications at the New Republic into a thriller, and he wound up with Shattered Glass, a sardonic parody of All the Presidents Men the editor chasing the lying writer who claims be a truth-teller till the end. Because Lurie doesnt have the benefit of such exciting raw material, he peddles that brand of male-bonding cinema in which a kid lets down his adoring elders even as he struggles to live up to the memory of the dead dad he never knew. In the 1980s and 90s, this particular cinematic subgenre had its own label: The Tom Cruise Movie. And, really, is there no better actor suited for the Top Gun Mach II or Pour Another Cocktail phase of his career than Josh Harnett, who looks, at least, as deep as a drained kiddie pool.