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Annapolis

Reviewed By David Cornelius
Posted 01/27/06 02:30:58

"It's a Navy movie about boxing. Confused? So's the movie."
2 stars (Pretty Crappy)

So you’ve just become a critical darling with a smash hit in the independent film world. What’s an up-and-coming director to do? If you’re Justin Lin, whose “Better Luck Tomorrow” was a major hit on the film festival circuit a while back, apparently you follow up your success the lazy way, by churning out the dopey, formulaic “Annapolis,” an embarrassingly limp drama about struggling cadets that could only please audience members who have never been out to see a movie before.

The film stars James Franco as scrappy schnook Jake Huard, who grew up across the river from the famed Naval academy; his dreams of making it into the Navy seemed lost, with Jake instead working for his grumpy pop (Brian Goodman) at the local shipyard, just a steel town boy on a Saturday night, lookin’ for the fight of his life. But wait! Along comes Donnie Wahlburg, looking all spiffy in his dress whites, handing Jake an envelope - he’s been accepted to Annapolis, thanks to a few other (better) recruits dropping out at the last minute. Oh, and service starts tomorrow morning. Hope that’s not a problem or nothin’ schedule-wise.

His shifts duly covered at the shipyard for the next four years, Jake reports for duty. In between the obstacle course montages lifted right out of a recruitment commercial and the camaraderie between his United Colors of Benetton bunkmates (we get the fat black guy, the hunky Asian guy, the wisecracking Puerto Rican, and Jake as the gloomy Italian), we get plenty of conflict between Jake and his superiors, who seem to be going out of their way to be so gruff and mean that R. Lee Ermey would be telling these guys to take it down a notch. The greasy bigot Whitaker (McCaleb Burnett), who hates both wisecracking Puerto Ricans and fat black guys, is soon topped in the jerky C.O. department by Cole (Tyrese Gibson), a Marine who’s helping out the Navy (guess he never saw Jack Nicholson’s speech to Tom Cruise and Demi Moore in “A Few Good Men”) and who’s so obsessed with death that he’s constantly reiterating the fact that Jake’s not knowing who the youngest cadet was is the same as not being able to save your shipmate if he’s dying. Or something.

And so Jake’s year at the academy is spent proving to himself (and his grumpy dad, and his friends, and his fellow cadets, and his superior officers, and Jordana Brewster, whose role in this story is to provide easy banter and potential love interest) that he’s worth a darn. Tensions get really heated when Jake and Cole have it out, with Cole announcing that Jake is out of the academy, and Jake tearily replying that he “got nowhere else to go!!”

I’m sorry. Wrong movie. Um, where were we? Ah, yes:

…that he’s worth a darn. Fortunately for Jake, who was not just a construction worker but an amateur boxer as well, the academy has an annual boxing tournament coming up, and Cole is the favorite to win. All we need is a training montage, some blurry editing to make the early round fights mostly unwatchable and confusing messes, and some cheap, sentimental advice (in this case, it’s: “When you step into that ring, you have three rounds to find out who you are”). And then, the Big Fight, when all the military drama and such gets shoved aside so we can get a boxing movie. Oh, and Jake’s grumpy pop says he probably won’t be able to make it to see the fight, but you just know he’ll make it into the stands just in time to burst with pride at the accomplishments of his only child. (Should a movie like this really be lifting plot points from “Ice Princess?”)

Now, if you’ve seen “Rocky,” you’ve seen the ending to this movie. And I don’t mean that it’s a little bit similar here and there. No, the entire finale is a note-for-note remake of the 1976 classic, the lone exceptions being a) James Franco never yells for Jordana Brewster at the end; b) the boxing sequences in “Rocky” were brilliant examples of moviemaking, while the boxing sequences in “Annapolis” are bland, chaotic without ever being interesting. Oh, and the movie doesn’t end in the boxing ring like it did in “Rocky,” simply because we just have to have that final shot of Jake walking proudly across the Annapolis lawn, music swelling. And last I checked, you can’t do that from inside a gymnasium.

What “Annapolis” is, ultimately, is an explosion at the cliché factory. There’s not a character, a scene, a line of dialogue that we haven’t seen fifty times before, usually in better movies. Aside from the intentional choppiness of the fight scenes (a gimmick which fails to engage the viewer the way Lin thinks it will), there’s nothing here that Lin couldn’t have directed in his sleep. This is cheap storytelling by rote. Considering that his next projects are the third “Fast and the Furious” movie and an Americanized remake of “Oldboy,” it would seem as if Lin were going after the easy money, instead of looking for another filmmaking challenge. “Annapolis” is a dull, forgettable studio programmer, absent of any of the intelligence Lin once promised. What a waste.

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