It’s to Josh Hartnett’s credit that he’s always believable as a journalist in Resurrecting the Champ, even when he poses in fitted shirts and jeans like a Ralph Lauren model. Hartnett understands the naïve ambition that deludes every reporter when he happens upon his first big scoop. “This is the kind of story that takes people places,” someone remarks early on in the film, and I couldn’t help giggling, remembering moments when I’ve muttered similar encouragements to myself. The Achilles’ heel of any serious reporter is his visionary spirit, which threatens to obstruct his view of the nitty-gritty facts. This is a mindset Shattered Glass couldn’t relate to, mired by its own suspenseful glamorization of Stephen Glass’s fraud act. By comparison, Rescurrecting the Champ is a snooze, but at least it’s an honest one: The discovery of a great lie, like a disingenuous lover, feels empty.
Erik (Hartnett) is unappreciated by his sports editor (Alan Alda), who always compares his bland stories to the work of Erik’s father, a legendary radio sports commentator. So when Erik stumbles on the story of the year—a one-time boxing champ (Samuel L. Jackon) now living on the streets of Denver—he bypasses his editor’s desk and heads straight for the cover of the newspaper’s magazine supplement. From the beginning, Hartnett subtly alludes to Erik’s problem, in the white lies he feeds his kid and his bright-eyed pitch to the magazine’s editors: This is a man always searching for validation, even if it’s undeserved. After the feature goes to print and Erik finds that Champ lied about his identity, a fact Erik egregiously failed to verify, the rewards seem shallow. He covers a Las Vegas match for Showtime and is later seduced by a network exec in a casino lounge, who lets him know, “People don’t want the truth.”
At the end of the day, Erik—like Glass—has only himself to blame, but it’s Hartnett’s natural likeability that puts the story’s complex drama into focus. He didn’t mean to lie, but couldn’t he have stopped it? If Hartnett’s performance embodies uncomfortable truths, Resurrecting the Champ, sadly, betrays the actor’s subtlety. Director Rod Lurie wraps up the film on a hammy, family-friendly note, concluding in dull-headed voiceover that this story is the story of every father, who tries to live up to his son’s expectations, and every son, who tries to make his father proud. That’s just a convenient way of excusing what Erik labored so hard to ignore: When everyone grovels at our feet, the last thing we want to think about is our own stinking shit.