Annapolis

Annapolis, Maryland is home to the United States Naval Academy, and Justin Lin’s two-hour entertainment is ostensibly about the first-year student experience of "plebe" Jake Huard (James Franco). Lin reworks the basic rags-to-riches fantasy in a muddle of cliches, as local boy from the wrong side of the shipyard makes good as a scrappy boxer-scholarship student among the military elite.

Annapolis is part Rocky, right down to copying camera angles, long shots, counterpoised establishing shots, and sound track underscoring the poor, novice boxer’s rise to become a contender. It is part Top Gun, a riff on military academy as high school with discipline. Mostly, it seems a remake of a half-remembered vision of An Officer and a Gentleman. Only the love interest superior officer Ali (Jordana Brewster) is miscast and irrelevant to any version of the story line. (Aren’t there rules against fraternizing, let alone romantic involvement between the ranks, or between student and instructor?)

Local boy Jake Huard has dreamed all his life (or at least ever since his dearly departed, saintly mother planted it in his mind) of escaping the family’s blue-collar world, of putting a life working in the shipyard behind him and becoming a champion boxer naval officer. Jake just happens to be a naturally talented boxer and so is discovered and brought into the academy at the last minute by Navy recruiter Lt. Burton (Donnie Walhberg). Jake’s father has little faith in the boy, and writes his son off as a loser (no doubt dad projects his own failed dreams on his son). Jake’s high-school friends also expect to see him flunk out, but, true to blue-collar cliche, remain friends with Jake to the very end.

Huard is a loner by nature, not by nurture, and this compels other characters, such a his Disneyesque cliched room-mates: straight-arrow, Asian A-student Loo (Roger Fan), overweight candy bar junkie, African-American Twins (Vicellous Shannon), and a little too loose, Latino Estrada (Wilmer Calderon) to fall by the wayside. (Estrada enters into a bit of on-camera competition with Franco for best sullen, sultry pout.) Scenes of fitness training, latrine duty, jogging and esprit de corps are interspliced with scenes of boxing. Huard’s pugilistic nemesis Company Commander Cole (Tyrese Gibson) drives the plot forward, whenever nothing else is going on. The entire plot builds to one simple climax, Huard’s glove-on-glove. battle with Cole in the ring at the annual Brigade Boxing Championship (eerily invoking Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire’s build-up to the wizards’ school’s annual cotillion).

Annapolis is as predicable as they come. Even the boxing scenes are prettified, with choppy motion shots of one pugilist at a time. The film sheds very little light on the rigors of student life at the Naval Academy or on the blue-collar world Huard is trying to escape. The point for making this film seems similarly elusive. Perhaps Touchstone Pictures is trying to keep up with Cinderella Man and Million Dollar Baby, or perhaps the Bush regime paid someone to push a touchy-feely soft sell for the present Iraqi war effort. Too bad none of the actors are given anything to work with here, either.

Les Wright