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Originally published August 24, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified August 24, 2007 at 2:03 AM

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Movie review

Lackluster "Resurrecting the Champ" has no punch

There's no rule that says a movie must have a likable character at its center, but it helps if a nonlikable central character is at least...

Special to The Seattle Times

Movie review 1.5 stars

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"Resurrecting the Champ," with Josh Hartnett, Samuel L. Jackson, Alan Alda, Kathryn Morris, David Paymer. Directed by Rod Lurie, written by Michael Bortman and Allison Burnett, inspired by an article by J.R. Moehringer.

111 minutes. Rated PG-13 for some violence and brief language.

There's no rule that says a movie must have a likable character at its center, but it helps if a nonlikable central character is at least interesting.

The problem with "The Contender" director Rod Lurie's lifeless "Resurrecting the Champ" is that there isn't much reason to care about Erik (Josh Hartnett), a thin-skinned sports reporter whose blind ambition tarnishes the reputation of his newspaper.

It's not that Erik doesn't have redeemable qualities, but it takes a long time to see within him evidence of a man who even acknowledges his personal and professional conflicts. That might make him human, but it's hard for an audience to get a hook in someone so callow.

Unhappy with the advice of his sports-section editor (Alan Alda) to make his prose less mechanical, Erik makes an end run around him by writing an attention-getting story for the paper's prestigious magazine supplement. His subject is a homeless man called Champ (Samuel L. Jackson), who identifies himself as a semi-legendary, long-lost prizefighter.

Erik becomes a media darling, all-but-abandoning Champ as the latter shuffles and wheezes down side streets. But fortunes change when the writer's sloppy reportage leads to disaster. Meanwhile, Erik's overhyped image in the eyes of his young son frays, making him look as inauthentic as he truly is.

The problem with this is that it's hard to give a hoot. Lots of actors could play a fellow who could do as many selfish and stupid things as Erik does and still be sympathetic. Hartnett doesn't have much to offer along those lines, and Lurie can't compensate by making us care about whatever pain or obsession drives Erik.

In the meantime, Jackson seems to be in his own movie, bringing soul and texture to a raspy, sweet-natured but surprisingly deliberate man. A lot of "Resurrecting the Champ's" secondary characters are far more interesting than Erik, including Alda's weary editor and Kathryn Morris' solidly professional journalist (and Erik's ex-wife).

None of them can save this hollow drama, however.

Tom Keogh: tomwkeogh@yahoo.com

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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