Boxing ring of life

As a sportswriter on a big story, Josh Hartnett aches to impress his son

Posted: August 24, 2007

"Resurrecting the Champ" is the latest in a line of movies about fathers struggling to meet obligations to family, and to sons in particular.

The movies have ranged from good ("The Pursuit of Happyness") to very good ("The Namesake"), and succeed in large measure on the relative merits of the actor assigned to play dad.

In "Champ" it's Josh Hartnett, the Gen-X hunk who recently showed a talent for comic banter in "Lucky Number Slevin." Here, he's cast as a sportswriter named Erik Kerner tracking a big story that he hopes will impress his 6-year-old son and also justify the famous last name he acquired from his legendary sportscaster father.

As a journalist whose ambition outstrips his ethics, Hartnett is OK. As a dad, well, there are problems. His interactions with his son (Dakota Goyo) have a tinny ring - in one short scene, Hartnett refers to the boy at least 10 times as "buddy," in what feels like a desperate attempt to establish casual familiarity.

And there is the matter of Hartnett's fabulous hair. It's not dad hair. It falls languidly across his blue eyes, as if it wants to be brushed away by Angelina Jolie. Real dad hair has flecks of shaving cream in it, and gets blow-dried in the jet wash of the driver's-side window, if it's dried (or even washed) at all.

It just never looks right, at least not until Hartnett has a short scene with Terri Hatcher of "Desperate Housewives." (Hartnett could probably pass for a dad on that show.)

Most of his scenes, though, are with Samuel L. Jackson, who's great here as a homeless man discovered by Kerner to be a former ranked boxer.

It's a career-making human interest story for Kerner, pigeonholed (by boss Alan Alda) as a bland beat writer. "Resurrecting the Champ" is good at showing how much the story means to Kerner, how he shepherds it through the newsroom's territorial minefields, also why he doesn't check each fact as carefully as he might.

This leads to film's soul-searching third act, with Kerner sorting through complex ethical problems, trying to explain to his son why efforts to impress him have only made things knottier.

Kerner is also separated from his wife (Kathryn Morris), a marital angle that's never adequately explained in "Champ" - the movie's family saga is meant to be the heart of the film, yet it always feels like an intrusion.

Hartnett's chemistry with Jackson is much better, and their scenes are underscored with some memorably good writing. "Resurrecting the Champ" leaves you wondering whether a shift exclusively to their (loosely fact-based) relationship might have made for a better movie. *

Produced by Brad Fischer, Marc Frydman, Mike Medavoy, Arnold Messer and Bob Yari, directed by Rod Lurie, written by Allison Burnett and Michael Bortman, music by Larry Groupe, distributed by Yari Group.

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