Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Movies: Ressurecting the Champ

In spite of my pubescent longings after the delightfully non-threatening Josh Hartnett (first fixated upon in his role as teenage heart-robber Trip Fontaine), I declined to see this movie, which promised to be absolutely dreadful, in the theater (although I did suffer The Black Dahlia more for him than my non-namesake, and also the critically-un-noticed Lucky Number Slevin, which was actually much better than I expected it to be). Imagine my delight, though, when this feature came up as one of my entertainment options on my recent trans-Atlantic flight. Nothing makes a six hour flight pass faster that a slew of heartwarming, inspiring tearjerkers (I didn't cry, but my mom did) featuring brilliant actors (Samuel L. Jackson, my friends, not Josh Hartnett) sacrificing themselves on the altars of mediocrity (the film, my friends, not his performance).

I cannot say for certain what makes this film so syrupy (actually, I can; I do believe it was the severed relationships surrounding Hartett's character, sports-journalist-hopeful Erik Kernan: that with his wife (they are separated), his father (recently departed via throat cancer, but present only as a mirage even during his lifetime), and his son (who loves his father dearly, but perhaps only because of the lies his father tells him about all of the famous sportsmen he knows), but I can say that it gets its bite, if it has any, from Jackson's character, the homeless "Champ," who self-identifies as forgotten championship boxer Bob Satterfield, but who, in the end (spoiler!) turns out to be a lesser figure who once fought Satterfield, and later, having moved to a different part of the country, began fighting under his name (supposedly under the coersion of a promoter) and then continued to impersonate him.

The film deals somewhat unfairly with this Champ character, giving him a carte blanche for his lies perhaps because of hypothetical brain damage suffered as a fighter, emotional damage suffered as a father (whose son lost respect for him when he discovered he wasn't actually Satterfield), or simply because of his homelessness. Jackson, though, plays him seamlessly, and delivers some of his sharper lines ("treating" Kernan to lunch at the homeless shelter, when the journalist asks to look through his shopping cart, he replies, sure, just as soon as you take me to your house and let me look through all of your personal belongings) as meditations on the concept that homeless people are people, too. He's really the only reason to watch the movie, although one could watch a homeless person just as easily on the street and have the very same experience (to Jackson's edification).

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