Parts “An Officer and a Gentleman” and parts “Top Gun”, Justin Lin’s follow-up to his indie hit “Better Luck Tomorrow”, the Navy Academy/boxing movie ” Annapolis “, is serviceable entertainment. To be sure, it’s nothing extraordinary, although everyone involved, from the cast to the director himself, are clearly destined for something better and more substantive. As a standalone sports movie, with all the cliché inherent in the genre, ” Annapolis ” is certainly innocuous enough, even though it does dive into cornball every now and then, but even that is good for a chuckle or two.
” Annapolis ” stars the James Dean-channeling James Franco (“The Great Raid”) as Jake Huard, a kid from “the wrong side of the tracks” who gets an invitation to Annapolis , the respected Navy Academy that only accepts a thousand or so applicants from the tens of thousands that apply every year. A welder at a shipyard that happens to overlook Annapolis , Jake has dreamt of attending the Academy all his life, beginning with a promise made to his now-deceased mother. Unfortunately for our hero, a disinterested father and a hardnosed attitude developed over a lifetime of being kicked down and forced to get back up on his own are destined to get the young man in trouble.
Obstacles in Jake’s way include his gruff instructor played by Tyrese Gibson (“2 Fast 2 Furious”), his culturally disparate roommates, and a continuous flirtation with Ali (Jordana Brewster), another one of his instructors. It is eventually revealed that Jake’s acceptance into Annapolis was the result of Lt. Burton (Donnie Wahlberg), who although the film never comes out and says it, sees himself in the young Jake, and wishes to help him however he can. Much of the film involves Jake going through training, getting into spars with his roommates and instructors, and of course, training for the inevitable Big Game (in this case, the Big Fight) between himself and Gibson’s Cole, the much-hated instructor, in the Academy’s Brigades, the one time of the year where superior and underling are considered equals inside the boxing ring.
The word that best describes ” Annapolis ” would be “unambitious”. The screenplay by David Collard (“Out of Time”) is a melding of various, familiarly-plotted sports and Armed Services-based films, including the aforementioned “An Officer and a Gentlemen” and “Top Gun”. The underdog sports movie themes are right out of “Rocky” and all of its various clones, and as such there is an overwhelming sense of d’jÃ vu while watching ” Annapolis “, and every now and then the film’s faithful adherence to the tropes of its genre is irritating. Fortunately for ” Annapolis “, what makes it a derivative piece of cinematic work also makes it easy to like. After all, the reasons movies like “Rocky” is mimicked so often is precisely because they are crowd pleasers and their formula have proven lucrative enough to replicate.
” Annapolis ” also benefits from a decent cast and crew. Justin Lin is more than a competent director, and must have known he was not making anything of real substance, so approached the film as an exercise on his way to bigger and better things. (Though to be sure, his upcoming third installment of the “The Fast and the Furious” franchise would seem to indicate otherwise, but I digress.) James Franco makes for a worthwhile square-jawed hero, and his chemistry with Jordana Brewster is excellent, although I might be a tad bias as I find Miss Brewster to be exceptionally appealing. But the biggest surprise has to be Tyrese Gibson, who proves that he’s not all muscle and good looks, and is actually quite effective as the hardassed instructor determined to mold Jake into a leader, or kill him trying. His confrontations with Jake, including their boxing match at the end, are of course straight out of “An Officer and a Gentleman”, but as they’re well done, they are easily forgiven.
Without belaboring the point, ” Annapolis ” was conceived as a crowd pleaser first and foremost. Its plotting and character arcs are almost obscene in their predictability (although the attempted suicide of one character was a bit of a shock), and the film is not nearly as inspiration as it seems to think it is. Beyond those negatives, I have little qualms about recommending ” Annapolis ” to those looking for easy no-frills entertainment. It’s got a good cast and the film never overstays its welcome. But if you require more from your movies, then you are advised to seek elsewhere.
Justin Lin (director) / David Collard (screenplay)
CAST: James Franco …. Jake Huard
Donnie Wahlberg …. Lt. Burton
Jordana Brewster …. Ali
McCaleb Burnett …. Whitaker
Chi McBride …. McNally
Wilmer Calderon …. Estrada
Jimmy Yi Fu Li …. Midshipman Lin
Tyrese Gibson …. Cole