Directed by: Justin Lin
Starring: James Franco, Tyrese Gibson, Jordan Brewster, Vicellous Reon Shannon
"Sir, no, sir!" That's what you should shout if someone tries to convince you that Annapolis is a realistic portrait of the hallowed institution that trains Navy and Marine officers. Heck, it wasn't even shot at Annapolis -- it seems that after the Navy got hold of the script, they withdrew their cooperation and it was shot in Philadelphia.
Annapolis is not a military movie, it's a boxing movie. Or rather, it's a movie about boxing as a metaphor for creating leaders. The annual boxing "brigade" is the only time at Annapolis when everyone is equal. So if you want to beat the bejesus out of the big nasty officer who's been picking on you, you can do it at the end of the year in three rounds in the ring
Inauthenticity is the modus operandi of this movie, starting with its blatantly dishonest previews. The previews show a huge ship blowing up, giving the impression that the sailors in this movie are going to be serving their country somewhere on the high seas in this time of international conflict. No such luck. That explosion scene isn't in the movie. Neither is the scene where the aforementioned big nasty officer, Lt. Cole (Tyrese Gibson Four Brothers ), explains why he's so mean to our young hero -- because he believes the cooperation-challenged kid can be a great leader. But if you didn't see the preview, you'd be clueless about his motivation and just think he's a stupid bully instead of a brilliant trainer.
Said hero is Jake Huard (James Franco, Isolde + Tristan), who grows up among the shipyards in Annapolis, always dreaming of crossing the river and attending the famed naval academy. Despite a poor academic record (and an inability to create more than one facial expression), Huard is a good boxer (the military is always looking for sports champs) and can be persistent. Each year, 50,000 applicants request admission to the academy and only 1,270 are allowed in, but Huard's record-breaking 34 days of nagging his congressman for an appointment pays off. However, as we all know from "boot camp" movies, few are called but even fewer can meet the challenge, so much of Annapolis shows the usual tests of strength and will that turn wimps into winners. It never hurts to be reminded of how difficult military training really is, so for that accomplishment Annapolis deserves merit.
While Lt. Cole makes Huard's life hell, femme officer Ali (Jordana Brewster, The Fast and the Furious) helps him get in shape for the big fight. In addition to being drop-dead gorgeous, Ali just happens to be a great boxing coach. Being so cute, she doesn't think she has to abide by the nonfraternizing rules that any guy of her rank must follow in order to become "an officer and a gentleman."
Meanwhile, the best character in the movie -- Twins (Vicellous Reon Shannon The Last Flight Out), an obese African-American plebe whose hometown is counting on him to be a success -- has his struggles outside the ring. More Twins/less boxing would have made for a better movie.
Director Justin Lin (Better Luck Tomorrow) can be lauded for the genuine cinematic excitement he creates in the boxing scenes. But it's also his fault that every jab of interest has been so watered down by the cliches he didn't avoid that even boxing fans are going to greet the final bell with a big yawn. Rated PG-13 for some violence, sexual content and language.
-- reviewed by Marcianne Miller