Reviewed By Doug Bentin
Posted 02/21/06 17:23:50

"Sail on the good ship USS Cliche."
2 stars (Pretty Crappy)

Despite the fact that film reviewing is essentially comparative in nature, young movie fans must get sick of reviews that condemn new pictures because they borrow so many elements from earlier films. The painful truth, though, is that some movies are just asking for it.

Which brings us to “Annapolis,” the new film from director Justin Lin (“Better Luck Tomorrow”). My guess is that a lot of reviewers will tell you how much resemblance it bears to “An Officer and a Gentleman” and “Rocky”—how’s that for an odd couple pairing—but I think there’s more than a touch of Harry Potter in the mix, too.

James Franco stars as Jake Huard, born and bred to be a riveter in the Annapolis shipyard although he’s always wanted to attend the Naval Academy. When you read that only his mom ever thought he’d make it, that mom is long dead and dad, also a shipbuilder, seems cold and distant, you start watching for the big reconciliation. No further comment necessary.

The film tells us about selected bits of Jake’s plebe year. That’s Annopolisspeak for “freshman year.” He meets the usual cast of characters from movies like this: the saucy Puerto Rican plebe, the fat black plebe, the over-achieving Asian plebe, the I’ll-make-a-man-of-you-if-it-kills-you drill instructor and his cocky assistant, and the understanding female D.I.

You’ll notice that Jake’s fellow-plebes are minorities, as if the Academy accepted applicants on a quota basis. Maybe it does. But of the four central freshmen, guess which one among the Hispanic, Black, Asian, and White roommates is the only one to remain tough and noble all the way through the movie. Go ahead. I’ll wait.

The background for this drama is The Brigades, the annual boxing tournament. When we first meet Jake, he’s an amateur boxer. The tough instructor (Tyrese Gibson) is the reigning Brigades champ. Think there might be a climactic showdown? Think that afterwards, all will be well and past sins will be forgiven? Think that this plot device worked well in “An Officer and a Gentleman” and might work again here?

I know, “An Officer and a Gentleman” came out in 1982 and may seem as ancient as “The Jazz Singer” to contemporary audiences. Even 24 years ago this story material has whiskers on in. Lon Chaney played the tough drill instructor in “Tell It to the Marines” in 1926.

If older audiences will be turned off by the heavy borrowings, will younger audiences enjoy the movie? Yes, I think so. The material is handled well. Franco starts edging into real acting here, unlike his stiff as week-old roadkill performance in “Tristan + Isolde.” Lin actually lets him smile and loosen up a little. He could become what Josh Hartnett and Paul Walker wanted to be but never quite made.

Jordana Brewster is humane and sexy as the distaff D.I. and Gibson does the best he can with a role that is one-dimensional until his last moment on screen.

Hokey as the whole thing is in its comfortable way, it’s not a terrible entertainment. I wouldn’t pay to see it—cinematic déjà vu can make for a long two hours—but I won’t smirk if you say you enjoyed it. But if you say you loved it, I’ll laugh long and hard.

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