by Mel Valentin
Imagine the following scenario: a desperate writer sitting, straining in a producer's office, down to his last pitch. With nothing else left, the writer pitches "An Officer and a Gentleman" meets "Rocky." The producer loves the idea (after all, "An Officer and a Gentleman" is 24-years old and "Rocky" turns 30 this year) and greenlights development on the script. Justin Lin, fresh off his success with the low-budget suburban angst flick, "Better Luck Tomorrow" gets hired to direct the screenplay. James Franco ("James Dean," "Spider-Man," "Freaks and Geeks") gets onboard as the lead actor (his contract stipulates that he'll be shirtless for at least 1/4 of the film's running time). Other B-level actors, hungry for a role (and a paycheck) sign up without any qualms. A year or so later, a theatrical release follows during the typically "dead" month of January. "Annapolis" gets released a short two or three months later on DVD.Jake Huard (James Franco), welder by day, club fighter by night, dreams of escaping his working-class roots and becoming a navy officer. Fueled by his late mother's fervent wish to see her son in uniform, the proximity of Annapolis to his hometown (literally a short trip across a river), and his desire to prove himself, Jake finally wins admission to the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis after applying several dozen times. Admiring Jake's perseverance, Lt. Cmdr. Burton (Donnie Wahlberg) recommends Jake for admission only a day before the beginning of the school term. Jake leaves his working-class friends and his ambivalent, unsupportive father, Bill (Brian Goodman), behind in the shipyards, but not before one last night of partying at the local watering hole with his cronies.
"Here's a better title: 'Rocky-apolis' (ok, a friend came up with that one)."
At Annapolis, the hot-tempered, anti-authoritarian Jake immediately butts heads with Lt. Cole (Tyrese Gibson, stepping into the Lou Gossett part), his company's principal drill instructor, while falling for another drill instructor, Ali (Jordana Brewster). Jake and Ali can't consummate their relationship, at least not until Jake has completed his first year at the academy. Jake's bunkmates include a stereotypically overachieving Asian, Loo (Roger Fan), a gregarious Latino from an unnamed urban city, Estrada (Wilmer Calderon), and the aptly nicknamed "Twins" (Vicellous Reon Shannon), a pudgy African-American whose lack of physical fitness poses a looming problem for his advancement at the academy (all "plebes," as they're called by upperclassmen, must past a grueling obstacle course at the end of their first year or face "separation," the term at the naval academy for expulsion).
In short order, Jake has to face his shortcomings as a student, his problematic temper, his bunkmates (at least one of the washes out), and his increasing dislike for Lt. Cole. Not coincidentally, every year the naval academy holds an intramural boxing competition, the Brigades Championships. Lt. Cole just happens to be the best heavyweight fighter at the academy. Jack prepares for the competition alone in a dimly light gymnasium. The boxing coach, McNally (Chi McBride), doesn't see Jake as a potential champion. The aptly named Ali turns out to be an expert boxing coach (where she gets her expertise is never discussed or revealed). Cue montage of Jake intensely training for his upcoming bouts. Annapolis eventually sidesteps scenes of academic life for the boxing competition, with a newly bulked up Jake targeting Cole.
Military drama, sports drama, melodrama, soap opera, Justin Lin's (Better Luck Tomorrow) latest film, Annapolis has it all, in large, undigested chunks, thanks to a cliché-ridden, by-the-numbers screenplay by the little-known David Collard. Viewers anxious about whether Annapolis treats the storyline and setting as opportunities to make explicit political statements about the Bush administration or the war in Iraq need not be concerned. The closest Annapolis comes to acknowledging the current political climate is in the last scene, as one of the central characters departs Annapolis for parts unknown (but his camo-wear and rucksack suggest he's leaving for an extended period of time). Annapolis could be set at any time and really any place (little is made of the student's water-based training). Assuming they care, viewers will have to dig deeper, to the level of subtext, to extract the faint glimmers of a political or social ideology.
If ideology sounds like a strong word to use in reviewing a derivative, uninspired film like Annapolis, it shouldn’t. The triumphalism and exceptionalism that are embedded in national ideology and popular culture easily find their support in the ethos propagated by Annapolis in its storyline about an underdog overcoming personal and professional odds to become not just a naval officer, but a shining beacon of Americanism, pure and unadulterated. Annapolis takes pains to prove that Jake’s individualism limits his personal and professional prospects. Self-discipline through physical exertion, rigorous study, and, of course, obedience to the orders of his commanding officers (regardless of whether he finds them fair or ethical), is what will make him a “true” American. If obtaining that goal involves beating an overachieving Asian stereotype through physical prowess, then all the better. That Jake has to take a member from another minority group in the final bout is a given. Lin indulges in low camera angles, and overbroad acting to ensure the audience roots exclusively for Jake in the final bout (Lin and his screenwriter pile on another clichéd plot turn by giving Jake one more reason to hate Cole the day before the big bout).
Annapolis isn’t a dry polemic on conservative, or if you prefer reactionary, values, but a wall-to-wall cheesefest from the opening scene, as Jake battles an opponent in a boxing ring as his friends cheer him on, through Jake’s hackneyed relationship with his father (Jake’s theme song sidesteps the generic orchestral score for an equally generic electric guitar), the underwritten romantic byplay between Jake and Ali, Cole’s predictable “tough love” approach to instilling discipline and team spirit in first-year students, to Jake and Cole’s mixing it up verbally, and finally, to the permanent shift to the boxing competition, culminating with Jake and Cole settling their differences in the ring. The screenwriter even borrows the resolution from Rocky (this after Lin attempts to crudely manipulate the audience by throwing in a series of slow-motion shots of Jake in a blue and yellow robe alone in the dressing room, psyching himself up for the fight).In the final (exhaustive) analysis, "Annapolis" may not be a good film, it may not even be a mediocre film, but all told, it’s already reserved a space on this critic’s guilty pleasures '06 list, due to the almost two hours of unintentional hilarity that "Annapolis" offers. In the right frame of mind, you'll probably feel the same.
link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=13772&reviewer=402
originally posted: 01/27/06 19:42:12