No movie will ever be able to recreate the mix of jingoistic patriotism, thinly veiled recruitment ads, and barely constrained homoerotic tension of Top Gun, Tony Scott’s ode to wet T-shirts and volleyball as a soldier’s way of life. So Annapolis, Justin Lin’s tale of one recruit’s decision to beat the odds of his upbringing by surviving the Naval Academy, borrows as much as it can from Top Gun, including a major plotline in which a sexy girl in a bar turns out to be the hero’s commanding officer. Lin also lifts the stern black commander from An Officer and a Gentleman and A Soldier’s Story, as if admitting that nothing he has to offer will be even slightly original. And it’s not. Annapolis is a by-the-numbers affair, featuring a lead with no charisma, a villain with no depth, and relationships with zero chemistry. Plus there’s boxing. That’s about it.
Jake Huard (James Franco) works construction in a shipyard and gets blitzed with his buddies in the off-hours. Jake’s an amateur boxer, too and, as the story opens, he’s getting whaled on by a coworker in a makeshift ring in a bingo parlor. There to watch his performance is Lt. Cmdr. Burton, played by Donnie Wahlberg, looking really, really out of place and confused, and somehow nude without a rat-tail and ripped jeans. Burton finds Jake at work and tells him that he’s been selected for a spot that just opened up at the academy, just like Mav and Goose slid into Merlin’s spot. Burton says the openings were created when a couple of kids quit because they “decided they’d rather have fun at college.” Not the best argument for recruiting a kid, but Jake doesn’t care. He’s ready to go: He’s got dumb friends, a distant father, and a dead mother to whom he promised a Navy career to deal with, so he’s not about to let anything get in his way of going to the academy. He’s got a worthless point to make, and he’s going to make it.
Jake and pals hit the bar for one last night of unsupervised drinking and possible brawls. Jake spots Ali (Jordana Brewster) while he’s there, and sure enough, she flirts with him before shutting him down. But, since Ali is our resident Charlie, it’s a given she’ll show up again soon, and sure enough, the next day, as Jake and the others are doing push-ups, there she is, looking more uncomfortable in her uniform than Demi Moore in A Few Good Men. Jake seems to have a good thing going, but then Midshipman Lt. Cole (Tyrese Gibson) shows up and begins to pound the life out of the company.
Jake’s assigned a pretty standard group of racial stereotypes as roommates: Asian Who Plays by the Rules, Sex-Obsessed Hispanic Guy, and Overweight Black Comedy Relief. Jake and the fat man, who’s nicknamed “Twins,” become friends and form a bond over their ineptitudes: Twins can’t run very fast, and Jake doesn’t know any academy trivia, both of which are exploited at every turn by Cole. Through a complete devotion to the rote screenplay, they help each other out.
What really gets Jake excited, though, is boxing, specifically the academy’s annual Brigades contest, which could be Jake’s chance to punch mean ol’ Cole and show him once and for all that Jake can’t be told what to do. He’s his own man, full of free will and determination, which is why he joined the military. No better place to be your own man than where everyone wears a uniform, I guess. Coach McNally (Chi McBride) discourages firebrand Jake from stepping into the ring, but McNally should really know better. Nobody puts Jake in the corner. He trains and works hard, accompanied the by drum-heavy generic rock and power-ballad slow riffs that Lin should know better than to use.
Along the way, there’s the predictable pattern of false crisis/dawn and real crisis/dawn: Jake debates quitting, kind of quits, kind of reconsiders, really reconsiders, pisses Cole off, tries to win Cole’s respect, etc. Screenwriter David Collard, who’s only previous experience is the Denzel Washington thriller Out of Time and, inexplicably, three “Family Guy” episodes, shows absolutely no skill whatsoever at assembling an engaging narrative or inventive story line. Sure, we know that Jake will more than likely wind up with Ali and help Twins out with the obstacle course. But it’s not too much to ask that he attempt to provide them with plausible, if not winning, dialogue and give their characters some modicum of personality. These people are literally nothing more than place holders.
Collard’s writing is lifeless, but Lin’s direction really sinks the film. His Better Luck Tomorrow was an enjoyable satire about overachieving high schoolers, but any flair he might have shown then has since disappeared. Every look of every frame of every scene is completely expected, going beyond predictable into a kind of cinematic dejà vu. Compared with Top Gun and its other predecessors, we literally have seen this movie before. And what of Jake’s relationship with Cole? They form no bond, exchange no personal information, never carry each other through some situation that might allow their perspectives to realign. Cole exists because he has to, because Jake needs some cheaply drawn enemy to represent all the demons he’s never been able to shake. And he and that demon need to box.
I also caught a glimpse of Zachery Ty Bryan among the ranks of Jake’s platoon, too recognizable a B-level name to be cast as an extra. His transitory presence alludes to entire plots and subplots reworked or eliminated in the editing process in a frantic effort to make the film work. Unfortunately, no good came of whatever excisions were made, and his curious presence is just another reminder that this whole affair is a failure.
Daniel Carlson is the L.A. critic for Pajiba and a copy editor for a Hollywood industry magazine. You can visit his weblog, Slowly Going Bald.Annapolis / Daniel Carlson
Film | May 12, 2006 | Comments ()