Blatantly uplifting in intent, Resurrecting the Champ is rescued from bland melodrama oblivion thanks to sharp performances from Samuel L. Jackson and Josh Hartnett. Jackson plays "Champ," a one-time contender whose post-fighting path ended on the streets of downtown Denver. Long forgotten and assumed dead, Champ—who fought under the name "Battling" Bob Satterfield—is unearthed by reporter Erik Kernan (Hartnett), whose unimaginative copy ("A lot of typing, not much writing...") has kept him sequestered in the back of the sports pages of the Denver Times. Believing Champ's hard-knocks story will be his big break, Kernan pitches a long profile above his pay grade, pens the article of his career, and is launched into the limelight. Then things turn ugly.
For a flick saddled with all the usual "based on a true story" trappings, Resurrecting the Champ turns out to be surprisingly effective. Director Rod Lurie (The Contender) occasionally relies on too many Raging Bull–inspired popping flashbulbs, and his blocking inside the ring could use work, but for the most part he keeps his direction low-key and unobtrusive, allowing his actors to breathe substantial life into their characters. It helps that Jackson keeps his usual bombast well in check, and his play with Hartnett—whose performance in Brian De Palma's The Black Dahlia was one of the film's few highlights—is natural and smartly understated. Mix in support from Alan Alda, Kathryn Morris, and an unrecognizable Peter Coyote, and it all adds up to a feel-good drama that won't make you feel overly manipulated for caring. Resurrecting the Champ proves that square, earnest movies not only survive, they can still hit all the right spots.