Monday, January 16, 2006

Review: Annapolis (2006)

rated PG-13
96 minutes

By Scott Mendelson

Annapolis is a stunningly stupid, hilariously inept ode to brainless testosterone. It celebrates the triumph of reckless ego over brotherhood, and brute strength over brains and common sense. Of course, the joke is that this film is set at Annapolis, a very well regarded school for training Navy leaders, and the very last place where selfishness and arrogance should find a home.

The plot: Jake Huard (James Franco, slumming) is a kid from a lower-class shipbuilding neighborhood. But he doesn't want to spend his life building ships. No, he'd much rather go to Annapolis, which can be seen from his neighborhood. But, he has a major chip on his shoulder and things don't start out on the right foot. With the help of a sympathetic lieutenant (Donnie Wahlberg, again proving that hes a far more natural actor than his more famous brother), and a commanding officer that he tried to hit on in civilian life (Jordana Brewster, looking like you CAN be an army leader before you get your drivers license), Jake will try to redeem himself against a brutal and demanding officer (Tyrese Gibson, quite good as the smartest character in the movie) not in the arena of knowledge, nor in the arena of Navy skills, but in a boxing ring.

Yup, that's right folks. The entire last third of this film is focused on the annual boxing tournament that eventually pits Jake against his rival Cole. Apparently, one doesn't need to be smart to be a top-notch Navy leader. Nor does one have to be wise to be a top-notch Navy leader. All one has to do, apparently, is be a top-notch prizefighter. Never mind that James ends the movie with the same terrible attitude and disdain for learning and cooperation that he came in with. Never mind that Cole is often viewed as the bad guy because he wants to push his recruits (he points out that he's been to war, so he knows what it allegedly takes). All James needs to validate his year at Annapolis is a keen right hook in front of his friends, fellow servicemen, and his estranged dad, who of course shows up late to the match at the most dramatic moment possible.

Putting aside the films stupid point of view, Annapolis is awash in the hoariest of cliches. We have the kid from the wrong side of the tracks, who has an attitude and a problem with authority. We have a comic relief overweight sidekick, who needs to prove himself to his hometown. He's played by a surprisingly winning Vicellous Reon Shannon, who tragically just became an orphan on 24. His story arc is actually far more compelling than the lead plot line, perhaps because he's the only one whose dialogue sounds human (he has a terrific monologue comparing Arkansas to Mississippi). We have the requisite hot commanding officer, whose purpose in the story is to... um, well... Brewster does look lovely. We have the straight-laced Asian student who is seemingly a villain because he wants to follow the rules. We have the halfway quit point, where the hero is talked out of quitting by a character from earlier in the story. We even have the cliffhanger moment where Jake's future rests in the hands of his mortal enemy.

All of this would be fine on its own accord. Cliches become cliches because they work. B-movies are a storied tradition in Hollywood and as long as they come in at a price, and they have competency at the core levels (acting, writing, directing), then formula stories are not doomed from inception. This is not the case. The core problem with the story is that Jake never, EVER truly learns to be a better person. He constantly gets his classmates in trouble and often has violent outbursts (a sucker punch delivered in a boxing match mid-movie will remind viewers, not in a good way, of Million Dollar Baby).

Even till the very end, he has a violent temper, a disdain for his colleagues, and a superiority complex. We don't root for him because the film gives us no reason to. Worst yet, the film sidelines a far more sympathetic character purely so Jake can have someone to fight in honor of. The moral of the story seems to be: be a violent, superior, unintelligent punk. As long as you can knock out your commanding officer in a boxing ring, then you're all good to be a top-notch Naval commander.

Grade: D

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