Director: Justin Lin
Cast: James Franco, Tyrese Gibson, Jordana Brewster, Donnie Wahlberg, Vicellous Reon Shannon, Roger Fan, Wilmer Calderon, McCaleb Burnett, Brian Goodman, Chi McBride
MPAA Rating: (for some violence, sexual content and language)
Running Time: 1:48
Release Date: 1/27/06
Review by Mark Dujsik
If you walk into Annapolis expecting insight into the world of the most elite naval academy in the US, you will be sorely disappointed. Annapolis is an amalgamation of formulas and clichés so out of touch with itself that I'm surprised I found it mildly entertaining. One could dismiss the movie as propaganda for the Navy but only if one could find any scene in the movie that glorifies finding oneself on the bridge of an aircraft carrier over discovering your inner strength in the boxing ring. The movie is less inspired by recruitment videos than it is by Rocky. Screenwriter David Collard is more familiar with inspirational sports drama formula than he is with military life, and as the adage says, write what you know. And Collard knows his formulas. Either that or he has a plug and play screenwriting program that no one has told me about, because his script contains the underdog who makes good, a training montage, a love interest, a tough-as-nails mentor/opponent, a ragtag group of friends, an uninvolved father, a scene next to a hospital bed, and many more to name. In spite or because of all this, the movie has a certain appeal.
Jake Huard (James Franco) works at a shipyard across the river from Annapolis. He works all day, boxes in amateur bouts at night, and goes out drinking with his friends after it all. One day, a Lt. Comdr. Burton (Donnie Wahlberg) arrives to meet with Huard after work to tell him that his application to the Academy has been accepted after a few late dropouts. His father (Brian Goodman) thinks his son is setting himself up to fail, his buddies feel the same way, and Ali (Jordana Brewster), the hot girl at the bar, turns out to be one of his commanders. At the school, he meets Midshipman Lt. Cole (Tyrese Gibson), a Marine who's spending his off-duty time serving as a commanding officer for the naval academy (really?), and Cole's by-the-books leadership doesn't mesh too well with Huard's I-play-by-nobody's-rules mentality. His roommates "Twins" (Vicellous Reon Shannon), Loo (Roger Fan), and Estrada (Wilmer Calderon) don't appreciate his knack for getting everyone to participate in physical punishment because he doesn't learn his material. Things are not looking well, so clearly, it's time to prove everyone wrong.
The answer comes in the form of the Brigades, the annual Navy boxing competition. How Huard manages to make it as far as to learn a way to prove himself is startling, as he spends most of the movie's running time serving as dead weight for his other "plebes." He doesn't do well in classes (classes in this movie amount to a single scene showing Huard messing up a tactical training exercise), and instead of taking the time to study, he seems to think he'll fly by with his blue-collar-worker-makes-good situation. The kid's got heart, though, helping "Twins" with the obstacle course, talking back to Ali when she talks down to a female recruit, and hitting his commanding officer twice. Yes, he hits Cole twice, and I'm talking about situations when they're not boxing. That the script doesn't make anything of it until the second time is confusing, but Cole's portrayal as an obvious nemesis is a bit disconcerting. We have two candidates for the movie's antagonist: Burton, whom some of the recruits think is racist and unfair, and Cole, who's tough but fair. Cole does nothing to deserve Huard's antagonism towards him until late in the movie, especially compared to Burton, and it adds an uncomfortable racial subtext.
Less disturbing but equally inopportune are Collard's other simplistic devices. If there's ambition in hackneyed writing, Collard has it by the busload, and in a way, I think there is. How, in 2006, can we be expected to watch a character in a hospital bed egging on our hero without a chuckle? How can we watch pretty, little Jordana Brewster pretending to be a wizened Navy officer without rolling our eyes? This is a movie that implies with almost every moment that the masses don't know any better, and I found that attitude and its execution on screen somewhat involving. It's almost as if Collard is testing the waters to see how much he can get away with. Director Justin Lin and the actors approach the material with straight faces, making the movie far more amusing than it should be. James Franco is a likeable actor, not one who can free this kind of material out from its self-imposed restraints, but his character arc is so familiar, we end up finding Twins' story far more interesting. Plus, he gives us the one intentionally funny scene in the movie that compares himself and Huard to Arkansas and Mississippi, one state looking better because it isn't the worst in the Union like the other (out of sensitivity to both states, I will not say which is which).
The analogy kind of works with Annapolis as well. There are a lot worse formulaic pieces of claptrap out there, so I cannot completely write this one completely off as bad filmmaking. The fact is Annapolis is inoffensive, bland entertainment that doesn't try to be anything more or less than that. It's somewhat entertaining, although most of the ways it is, I highly doubt the filmmakers intended.
Copyright © 2006 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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