Annapolis (United States, 2006)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

It is said there's nothing new under the sun, but watching Annapolis created a powerful sense of déjà vu the likes of which I rarely experience while watching a movie. Not only did I know everything that was going to happen from start to finish, but I recognized individual scenes and even lines of cheesy dialogue. This isn't as much a movie as it is a recipe for a cinematic casserole in which the ingredients are clichés and rip-offs. To give the filmmakers credit, however, they managed to find a way to wed An Officer and a Gentleman with Rocky - not what one would consider to be a "natural" match.

James Franco, who's getting a lot of exposure this January (his other release is Tristan & Isolde), plays Jake Huard, a plebe who is accepted to the Naval Academy at Annapolis off the wait list at the recommendation of Lieutenant Commander Burton (Donnie Wahlberg). By day, Jake is a riveter working in a shipyard building Navy vessels. By night, he's an amateur boxer. Burton sees something in the young man that he believes can be molded into a leader. But what starts out as a dream for Jake - being accepted to Annapolis - turns into a nightmare when his drill instructor, Cole (Tyrese Gibson), a Marine on loan to the Navy, lands on him like a ton of bricks. In order to prove himself, Jake decides to enter a prestigious boxing tournament called the Brigades. He is initially outclassed, but weeks of training by Burton and another of Jake's superiors, the pretty Ali (Jordana Brewster), with whom he becomes romantically entangled, make him ready to stand toe-to-toe with the best boxer at the academy: Cole.

We also get snippets of subplots featuring Jake's roommates. None of these are developed, but they're left in to add "color" and pad the running length. Twins (Vicellous Reon Shannon) is overweight and out-of-shape, and faces the challenge of being able to complete an obstacle course in under five minutes or be expelled. Loo (Roger Fan) is an overachiever who is irritated that Jake's inability to answer pop quiz questions results in the entire company being punished. And Estrada (Wilmer Calderon) is annoyed that he has been singled out by his superiors for his supposed body odor and ordered to take a shower in the middle of the night.

As is often the case with sad misfires like this, characters are reduced to caricatures and the story needs a crowd-pleasing moment or two to disguise its shortcomings. So, instead of the focus being on surviving the rigors of the Naval Officers program at Annapolis, it turns to a championship boxing match. The fight is important for two reasons: it provides us with a Davy versus Goliath situation (or Rocky versus Apollo, if you prefer) and it gives our hero a chance to pummel his instructor. Consider in An Officer and a Gentleman if Richard Gere had been provided with the opportunity to take out his frustrations on Lou Gossett Jr. That's essentially what Annapolis offers. I admit that the boxing scenes work on the same primal level any competently directed boxing scenes in any movie work. If only the same could be said for the rest of the picture.

Annapolis is a comedown for director Justin Lin, who was the creative force behind Better Luck Tomorrow, a 2002 indie about Asian Orange Country high school students who engage in unusual extracurricular activities. Lin's trajectory from a captivating small budget movie to a studio-controlled by-the-numbers production is an indication of the kind of compromises a director has to make to enter the mainstream. Without a credit sheet, one would never associate both pictures with the same filmmaker.

The U.S. Navy declined participation, stating that some of what occurs in Annapolis does not reflect the way things really work. Having seen the movie, it's not hard to guess which instances upset the military. Nevertheless, Annapolis seemingly goes out of its way to be a Valentine to its namesake. The film's view of Annapolis is reverent, but it stops short of being a recruiting film. (Although the sight of Jordana Brewster in uniform is enough to encourage almost anyone to enlist.) Because the Navy was not on board, filming was not allowed inside the Academy, so stand-in sites were used. Most people (except those familiar with Annapolis) likely won't care or notice.

Some viewers find predictable movies that recycle material from other, better films to be an acceptable form of entertainment. They may enjoy Annapolis. I found the experience to be a little tedious. The best I can do for Annapolis is to recommend it as a possible viewing choice when it shows up on late night TV. There, amidst all the reruns and regurgitations, it will be at home.

Annapolis (United States, 2006)

Director: Justin Lin
Cast: James Franco, Tyrese Gibson, Jordana Brewster, Donnie Wahlberg, Vicellous Reon Shannon, Roger Fan, Wilmer Calderon
Screenplay: Dave Collard
Cinematography: Phil Abraham
Music: Brian Tyler
U.S. Distributor: Touchstone Pictures
Run Time: 1:48
U.S. Release Date: 2006-01-27
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Profanity, Violence, Sexual Situations)
Genre: DRAMA
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1