Starring James Franco, Jordana Brewster, and Tyrese Gibson. Rated PG.
Annapolis is an odd combo of clichés: boxing mixed with boot camp, Rocky meets An Officer and a Gentleman. The ring action is just a token spin on the old, tired story of a blue-collar, hard-knocks guy trying to stick it out through military training.
Jake Huard (James Franco) is a young shipbuilding riveter who spends his off-hours boxing in old bingo halls. His stoic father wants his son to stay put in his union job, but Jake yearns to attend Annapolis, the U.S. naval academy across the bay from his factory town in Maryland. When he finally gets his chance, his immediate superior (Tyrese Gibson's Cole) spots him for a rebel and puts his boot up Huard's ass. But Huard has a chance to get back at his nemesis: they'll meet on equal footing in the academy-wide Brigades boxing tournament.
The bitter irony is that movies like this, from Top Gun on down, portray it as a superhuman feat-a dream come true-that some poor kid from the wrong side of the tracks transforms himself into a man in uniform. But the fact is America has been filling its armed forces with expendable poor kids from the wrong side of the tracks as long as the U.S. has been waging wars. (See Bowling for Columbine for a reality check.) Here, we get scenes of Huard staring longingly from his Dickensian-grey factory town across the water to the glittering, Neo-Greek pillars of Annapolis. Cue the recruitment officer in his starched whites and sparkling gold epaulettes, floating through the dreary docks in search of Huard; bring on the orchestral swells, punctuated by marching drums.
Yes, Annapolis has the stink of a recruitment ad and that's too bad. Director Justin Lin, the young talent behind the stylishly clever Asian-teen indie Better Luck Tomorrow, has made a stronger film than this recycled propaganda deserves and can mostly thank his cast. Franco brings depth and a Brando-style brawn to his quiet loner. Among the bit parts, Gibson is his perfect Teflon nemesis; Jordana Brewster's Ali is the smart, spunky antithesis to the babes that usually populate these kinds of movies; and Vicellous Shannon provides ample comic relief as Huard's roommate.
Except for the endless pushups in the pelting rain, Huard has a pretty good time, flirting with Ali and working on his left hooks. The only vague reference to war is via Cole, the only guy who's ever seen action; apparently it's turned him into the miserable bastard he is. Watching Annapolis, you start to despair: is it too much to ask for a more challenging story about military life at a time when there are body bags coming back from Iraq every day? As for Mr. Lin: better luck tomorrow, indeed.