Director: Justin Lin
Starring: James Franco, Tyrese Gibson, Jordana Brewster
Release date: January 27 (US). This one replaced the unavailable Teenage Wasteland. It’s getting more and more mundane the newer the films are – I definitely should’ve done this series backwards. Can Annapolis alter the trend? May contain naval cadet abuse and spoilers…
If ever a word defined a movie, open a dictionary, flick to the ‘T’ section, run your finger down to ‘trite’ and next to it you’ll find the definition: Annapolis. Films like this are wearisome to watch; it hasn’t been written, the writers merely compiled a checklist and placed a tick in the relevant box as they went along. Annapolis is cinematic Seroxat. It’s what the cool kids call ‘Meh’. You’ve seen An Officer And A Gentleman, right? Okay. You’ve seen Rocky? Fine, then, you’ve seen Annapolis. I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s how they pitched it; ‘Think Rocky in a naval academy, it’s Full Metal Boxing Gentleman!’ You sit there and tell the telly exactly what’s going to happen next, then you think, ‘surely they won’t do that coz it’s been done a thousand times already’ – and they go ahead and do it. Yet Annapolis dulls your senses and you find yourself drifting through the familiar scenery in a vaguely agreeable state of un-mind. Y’know, the more I think about this film, the wanker it gets.
Jake Huard (James Franco) is a ship builder, a riveter. His deceased mother always wanted more for him though, wanted him to enrol at the Naval Academy across the bay. A lucky break sees him get his chance, despite opposition from his uptight but well-meaning father. I want to stop writing now, Lord, I’m feeling some irk (‘don’t make me irked, you wouldn’t like me when I’m irked’). And so it begins. On his last night before shipping out to begin the training, his brother and friends trick him into thinking a tidy chick in the local pub is an escort they’ve organised to give him a big send-off. She’s not – LOL! Jake still tries to pick her up, telling her it’s his last night, he’ll be off to the Academy in the morning, then into combat and they will never meet again. Bear in mind I’ve never seen Jordana Brewster before (glad to have rectified that oversight), but it was blindingly obvious she was going to show up again and would doubtless turn out to be his superior at the Academy.
It continues. Hard ass officer, Cole (Tyrese Gibson), on loan to the Navy from the Marines (dunno why, wasn’t listening), busts Jake’s balls constantly. A fat cadet, Twins (Vicellous Shannon) can’t get round the assault course and hides chocolate in his belongings – inevitably it gets found and he gets in trouble. Jake befriends him. Nasty-ish instructor Whitaker (McCaleb Burnett), who may be racist, busts fat boy’s balls (loads of ball busting going on) and gurns at Jake a lot. He can’t hack it, our Jake, goes home for Christmas and applies for a job jabbing chimpanzees in the butt with syringe full of a green Alzheimer accelerator. No he doesn’t; he asks for his old job back. He finds out his ex-work colleagues, dad included, have been taking bets on when he will quit the Academy. He has an argument with his dad. Back at the Academy they think no-show Jake has quit – but he turns up for roll call just in time and in a determined frame of mind. Cole tells him he hasn’t got what it takes and to give up. Jake says ‘no’. So, Cole keeps firing very difficult Navy questions at him which Jake gets wrong; every time he does the rest of the squad suffer, not him. He is shunned and ridiculed, deserted by his room mates, except for Twins (he’s so fat he’s the size of two people – geddit?) who helps him with the theory while Jake helps Twins with the assault course.
Meanwhile, there’s a boxing contest coming up, the Brigades. Jake can box, as we see at the beginning of the movie and we’ve also seen him foolishly get in a ring with Cole who swats him like he would a gnat. So, we get a Training Montage Scene™ coz he’s got to make the weight, 180 pounds (hoo-boy, featherweight Franco’s gonna need to drink a lot of Guinness to make 180 pounds). Ali (Brewster) helps him train as does Lt. Burton (Donnie Wahlberg), the bloke who took him on in the first place and believes in him. Jake makes the weight and the course is set for a collision with the reigning champ… Cole. C’mon, who else it gonna be! Jake knocks out Loo (Roger Fan), ex-room mate (who then becomes his corner man). He knocks out Whitaker, the racist prick. Twins fails to beat 5 minutes on the assault course and throws hisself out of a window. He doesn’t die coz that might be too much of a shock to the audience’s delicate sensibilities. Anyhow, Jake blames Cole and punches him in the face. His dad tells him he won’t be at the Final to watch him box. Mini-SAT exam: (a) does Jake knock Cole flat in the Final – roll credits, or (b) does Jake lose the fight narrowly but gain the respect of everyone present, especially Cole – roll credits? And bonus question (c) does Jake’s dad show up to watch the fight?
I’ve laid it out above because, honestly, you’ll know what’s coming beat for beat anyway. Apparently, the US Navy declined to assist in the production of Annapolis, can’t think why. Not that I know any kind of procedure at a Naval Academy, but I still found one or two instances rather peculiar. Given that Twins got bollocked for smuggling in comfort food, when Jake turns up for the weigh-in with his mouth stuffed full of chocolate, wouldn’t he be disciplined and possibly ejected, along with the repeat offender supplying him? Jake also punches his commanding officer. Now, Cole specifically asks for the hearing to be postponed till after the Brigades thereby allowing Jake to fight him – that’s fine. But in reality I would expect Jake to be dismissed on the spot, no boxing match, end of discussion. The assault course situation seemed overly harsh too. Twins loses his place at the Academy by finishing 4 seconds outside the 5 minute time limit? He couldn’t even finish the course before. So, even if you’re one second outside the time limit it’s like, ‘fail, pack yer bags and get out’. Rum, that. How about; ‘You’re in, fat boy. But you’ll be doing this assault course again until you get it under 5…’ But if that’s the way the Navy find the best of the best, who am I to knock it.
Sometimes, when you know what’s coming there’s still fun to be had watching the journey. No such fun here. When Jake climbs into the ring with Cole earlier in the film you know he’s going to get knocked on his arse and you know he’ll get another chance. You know his dad will turn up for the Final. His room mates include the chubby loser, the cocky one, the straight-arrow… all stereotypes present and correct. By the time you get to the Push-Ups Outside In The Rain Scene™ you’ll be darn near in a coma. You get the whole kit and caboodle here as well; Cole allows the squad to finish and go back inside but keeps Jake out there on his own, just because he can. But his fellow plebes come back and continue alongside Jake because they’ve discovered a newfound respect for him. Bloody shameless, it is.
The boxing action… It’s shot mainly close in and you can tell the actors aren’t punching each other, they kind of cuff each other around the arms, blocking and all that. I should say that I know heff all about boxing. In the wide shots, blows are being landed and I presume the boxers were stand-ins for those. There is some energy to these scenes but they lack spontaneity. I’d much rather watch Rocky boxing. In fact I’d much rather watch hares boxing.
James Franco is watchable, he’s doing a ‘James Dean’ thing, it’s all right. Tyrese Gibson is stone-faced throughout, a characterless hard arse. Jordana Brewster I didn’t know and she sure is purty, but I didn’t buy her as a Navy instructor. She persistently looks at Franco like she wants to sit on his face. Vicellous Shannon does a decent job, his hard luck story is probably more touching than the main character’s, to be honest. Chi McBride (McNally – boxing trainer) and Donnie Wahlberg are both okay, but neither of them look like they want to sit on Franco’s face… maybe Wahlberg, just once… Ah, I’m running on empty now. There are better films featuring the US Navy out there, The Caine Mutiny, Mister Roberts, Midway, Crimson Tide… go and watch those instead.
I don’t care what you do – just do something. Make me hate your movie, even. But don’t ever, ever bore me from the first to the last because that’s only gonna lead to one thing…
…a Gorilla… and he’s very Rude.
ThereWolf, July 2012