Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2007

‘Champ,’ ‘Right At Your Door’: Whimper and bang

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Yari Film Group
Josh Hartnett (center) stars as a young sportswriter who uncovers the story of the year.
Resurrecting the Champ

Rated PG-13. 111 minutes

Drama

Cast: Samuel L. Jackson, Josh Hartnett, Kathryn Morris, Alan Alda, Teri Hatcher, with David Paymer

Director: Ron Lurie

Right at Your Door

Rated R. 93 minutes

Sci-fi melodrama

Cast: Rory Cochrane, Mary McCormack, Tony Perez, Scotty Noyd Jr., Max Kasch, Jon Huertas, Will McCormack

Director: Chris Gorak

Bombs go off, figuratively and literally, in two new movies. In ‘‘Resurrecting the Champ,” a young sportswriter, writhing in a dry spell, uncovers the story of the year only to have it blow up in his face. Meanwhile, the indie Armageddon melodrama from the U.K. ‘‘Right at Your Door” detonates dirty bombs in downtown L.A., instantly transforming the ZIP code along with its morning commuters, into so much toxic cinder.

That about covers some of your basic nightmares.

Both are honorably made small films, worth a view by those who don’t go faint at fateful smackdowns or at the words ‘‘we interrupt your regular programming.”

Samuel L. Jackson anchors ‘‘Resurrecting the Champ” with a counter-comforting performance that’s hard to stomach yet impossible to not watch. ‘‘I ain’t no bum, I’m just homeless,” says ‘‘Battling Bob” Satterfield, the long-lost yet once-promising heavyweight boxer and title contender. The old derelict is taken under the wing of sportswriter Erik Kernan (Josh Harnett).

Kernan has his angles; the Champ does, too. As the human interest story takes flight, their lives become entwined. Then it’s a punch out of left field and viewer meets canvas.

‘‘Inspired by a true story,” ‘‘Resurrecting” is elevated by fine performances (including a drop-dead cameo by Peter Coyote), cinematography (Adam Kane) and an appealing story, which interweaves themes of fathers and sons, getting a shot at the title and getting it right. ‘‘Resurrecting the Champ” vibrates between warm feel-good and heavyweight hokum. Director Rod Lurie can’t resist teary psychologies. But it’s Jackson, with his greasy hair, brave bob-and-weave, raspy squeak and patented on-screen cunning, who delivers the KO.

California dreaming

‘‘Right At Your Door” turns the tables on the usual Hollywood disaster story. In novice director Chris Gorak’s vision (and budget), civic collapse is kept at a distance; there are no hemorrhaging wounds or crazed zombies. The movie’s tense, intimate and harrowing stage is reserved for musician Brad (Rory Cochrane). After the initial panic, he faces Armageddon as a series of despairing decisions: to trust authorities for rescue, to barricade himself in his suburban house against contaminated survivors.

‘‘Right At Your Door” is intriguing, if unevenly moving. A 12th-hour revelation won’t win any converts. However, the movie’s lingering image is as anguished as anything ever filmed: two lovers whispering through a cling-sealed window.

Both ‘‘Resurrecting the Champ” and ‘‘Right at Your Door” are stories that want to rip their shirts from their chests and stand revealed alone in a blaze of emotion. They might make better theater than cinema.