1½ stars (out of four)
On the movie Web site RottenTomatoes.com, "Annapolis" is listed under two different genres: "dramas," and "boxers."
True enough. This formulaic programmer, about a young shipbuilder who forgoes a union-protected job (talk about crazy) in a Maryland shipyard for a crack at the nearby U.S. Naval Academy, qualifies loosely as drama. And its target audience may well give it a whirl in the hopes of seeing its star, James Franco--late of "Freaks and Geeks," the "Spider-Man" pictures and the TNT James Dean biopic--in his boxers.
Franco plays Jake Huard, a lone wolf who has seen his share of emotional hardship, as well as his share of such movies as "An Officer and a Gentleman." Jake's late mother had a dream: to have her son become a Navy man. Jake's father did not and does not encourage this dream. But as "Annapolis" begins, our wait-listed hero sneaks under the wire to become 1 of 1,207 freshmen, called "plebes," eager to learn whether they have the stuff.
Jake requires more stuff than most, since he isn't merely trying to get through his plebe year--his tiger's eye is trained on boxing glory. Coached by his military superior (Jordana Brewster), who wears a suspicious amount of eye shadow and lip gloss for someone in her position, Jake spends most of his time readying himself for the brigade boxing championship. Eventually he braves the ring against his sometime nemesis, the nail-spitting company commander, Midshipman Lt. Cole (Tyrese Gibson, bringing an effective glower to the Louis Gossett Jr. role).
In the first 30 minutes screenwriter Dave Collard signposts every obstacle on the course, from the father/son issues to the suicide attempt of a supporting character. It didn't have to be this way. There's a good movie to be made about a townie who tests his mettle against the local elites. Plenty of films exploiting this time-honored premise, from the pretentious "Good Will Hunting" on up, tend to push the right audience buttons. But the "Annapolis" script is less a script than a checklist, and while director Justin Lin ("Better Luck Tomorrow") may have talent, he doesn't bring anything fresh or visually vital to this story, much of which is photographed, edited and scored like a U.S. Navy recruitment ad.
The Navy will no doubt like what it sees, yet a project such as this should impart some sense of the times we live in. "Annapolis" insulates itself from such real-world concerns. It could be taking place in 1958, though a picture from that era probably wouldn't be quite so smitten with Franco--a pretty good actor--suffering prettily in his rain-soaked T-shirt, looking like the star of a movie that should've been called "Ann-ab-olis."
Directed by Justin Lin; screenplay by Dave Collard; cinematography by Phil Abraham; edited by Fred Raskin; music by Brian Tyler; production design by Patti Podesta; produced by Mark Vahradian and Damien Saccani. A Touchstone Pictures release; opens Friday. Running time: 1:48. MPAA rating: PG-13 (for some violence, sexual content and language).
Jake - James Franco
Lt. Cole - Tyrese Gibson
Ali - Jordana Brewster
Lt. C mdr. Burton - Donnie Wahlberg
Twins - Vicellous Shannon
Loo - Roger Fan