Champ’ not just sports story

Why mess with a good thing?

In the past several years, boxing films have graced the silver screen, done a number on the box office and even stepped into the Oscar ring. For one, Million Dollar Baby took the big prize in 2004 and everyone knows that Baby is about way more than boxing. It was nominated because it has heart, depth and, well, several A-list stars to stir up some interest and justify ever-increasing ticket prices.

Resurrecting the Champ follows in this kind of tradition. A lot of themes can be taken away that include poverty, truth, identity, pride and the modern family. Actually, its expansive scope of the human condition could almost contend with the famously enveloping Ulysses. One stands above the rest though: integrity. From the opening sequence it begins to become obvious that the film only uses the world of boxing to encapsulate a story about the press and its most revered principle.

This, of course, is not to say that boxing fans will be disappointed by lack of blood spatter. In fact, during the matches viewers can see the beads of sweat fly gracefully across the screen after a tastefully-shot sucker punch and feel the complete disorientation of a knockout. Also, much of the history and culture remain intact and share the screen. Occasional references to Muhammad Ali and the Raging Bull will not be lost on true aficionados.

Champ, at first glance, is set up like a sporting legend bio-pic but from a different point of view than first person. The tagline says the film is "based on a true story, that was based on a lie," and this does even more to question the dubious format. To be any clearer would be to spoil the plot.

Samuel L. Jackson is pretty timeless. The man is like clay that can be molded to fit any role. In Pulp Fiction he was the epitome of cool. In the recent Snakes on a Plane, he tossed whatever credibility he had and bit the bullet – with great success. In Champ, SLJ lacks all the qualities one would ever think to associate with the triumphant title. He lives on the street, he allows neighborhood hoodlums to lay it on him and his actions and words are almost meek and certainly pathetic.

It’s not the Jackson viewers are familiar with and it may take a little while to get used to it, but it is totally worth it because he acts his little heart out and delivers an Oscar-worthy performance. He might even win if the Academy never gets around to seeing Superbad.

It’s easy to hate Josh Hartnett. He’s not 100 percent convincing as being remorseful, he’s not entirely ruthless when the situation calls for it and he’s distractingly young – especially next to the woman who plays his wife. In other words, he’s not off-the-wall with his acting. It’s almost as though he was thrown in so that some other mature actor doesn’t steal Jackson’s thunder.

But this is not fair. Hartnett has come a long way since The Faculty and Pearl Harbor. He has perennially accepted (and not totally trashed) challenging roles. Maybe this will be the one that will push him over from another pretty face to bona fide movie star.

What is there to say about Alan Alda? He’s super. Thanks for asking.

Sports fans will get a kick out of it while others won’t feel left out. It’s not easy to overlap the triumph of a has-been boxing champion with the rocky and fledgling career of an up-and-coming journalist, but somehow, the two manage to cross paths in Resurrecting the Champ.

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