Annapolis Movie Review
The day before he's set to enter the Annapolis-based U.S. Naval Academy, Jake Huard (James Franco) paints the town one last time with his crew. On his buddy's urging, he flirts with watering-hole floozie Ali (Jordana Brewster) but gets distracted when a bar fight breaks out. The next morning, during warm-up drills, Huard is shocked to discover this petite, exotic beauty is one of his Naval instructors.
Apparently this fledgling plebe never watched Top Gun, a movie that screenwriter David Collard honors by repeatedly stealing from it. Lin and his writer also assume the bulk of their target audience, a decidedly younger demographic, hasn't seen An Officer and a Gentleman, Rocky, Stripes, or The Karate Kid, so they liberally borrow enough elements from those underdog films until they have enough parts to construct one massive motivational Frankenstein's monster.
Maryland's coastal town provides a beautiful backdrop for Lin's two-hour recruitment video, which follows Huard during his hard-knocks transition from blue collar to dress whites. Annapolis surrounds Franco with a fleet of exaggerated caricatures, from the carefree drinking buddy (Jim Parrack) who's destined for mediocrity to the detached father (Brian Goodman) who can't muster the courage to tell his son he's proud of him. The poor characterization continues inside the Academy, where Huard encounters a rival in Loo (Roger Fan, held over from Lin's Tomorrow), an ally in chubby Nance (Vicellous Reon Shannon), a mentor (Donnie Wahlberg), a no-bull drill instructor named Cole (Tyrese Gibson), and - last, but not least - a potential love interest in Brewster.
Saying Annapolis is predictable is like saying water is wet. Collard almost takes a bold step at the onset by raising valid arguments about trust in a team and respect in a system. But Lin tends to overdramatize topics that would be important enough on their own with the use of a heavy-handed inspirational score (credit Brian Tyler for the original music) and blatant shot selection.
Saying Franco is monotonous is like saying Annapolis is predictable. The beefed-up actor is physically capable of filling Huard's shoes, but continues to inject his scenes with the expected medium-wattage persona that lacks the heat and hunger Richard Gere brought to a similar bottomed-out loner in Officer.
Annapolis coasts by on minor perks. Brewster's an upgrade over Talia Shire, Debra Winger, and Kelly McGillis (combined), but she still plays down to her competition and can be lulled into submission by Franco's lifeless deliveries. Chi McBride brings plenty of charisma to the role of a Naval boxing trainer, and Gibson plays his hard-ass drill sergeant at a slow burn despite being given ample opportunity to growl and bark with hammy gusto.
The fun comes from determining which film Annapolis most resembles, and that's no easy task. Jake's bar flirt with Ali is lifted right from Top Gun, though his sparring with Cole has Officer written all over it. The film morphs into Rocky when Huard takes up boxing and undergoes stitched-together training montages in preparation for the semester-ending Brigades. Near the end, it's The Karate Kid all over again as Huard hammers through the Cobra Kai en route to a rematch against Cole. During the final boxing match, Gibson even has a vocal supporter shouting from his corner. He may have screamed, "Why don't you get him a body bag," but it's possible I was just hearing things.
Enough talk about all of the things Annapolis is. Let's point out the one thing it isn't: original. Because the bulk of Annapolis stays by the book, Lin left one avenue where he retained the freedom to flex his creative muscle, and that's inside the boxing ring. It's here, between the ropes, where filmmakers from Martin Scorsese to Ron Howard thought outside the box to elevate the sport as it appears on screen. Lin opts to ignore their lead, though, slicing and dicing his fight footage until its indiscernible which glove is landing on whose body. There's no doubt Annapolis is going down. It would be nice to see who's doing the swinging.
One of these things is not like the other.