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Resurrecting The Champ

Samuel L. Jackson turns in a restrained performance on what could have been a scenery-chewing role, but Peter Coyote steals the film in a tiny role.

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 Inspired by real events, Rod Lurie's film tells the story of an eager young sports reporter (Josh Hartnett) who discovers that a homeless man (Samuel L. Jackson) is a former boxing champ. It's a dream story ... at least, until it turns into an editorial nightmare. The middle of the film -- when things go awry -- is best, and Lurie (The Contender) poses questions about ethics vis-à-vis entertainment (be it boxing or media) and ambition. Hartnett remains lightweight, but Jackson turns in a restrained performance on what could have been a scenery-chewing role. (Peter Coyote steals the film in a tiny role as an old-school boxing fixture.) But too much of the film is larded up with the reporter's family troubles -- as if reporters delivering sloppy or juiced up stories for personal gain isn't enough of a drama. We don't need a precocious 6-year-old kid on board to be our moral center. And certainly not when the intriguing world of mid-century unsanctioned boxing is left barely explored. Starts Fri., Aug. 24.

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