Sunday, January 29, 2006

REVIEW: Annapolis (2006)

The trailers for "Annapolis" are promoting a straight-up "boot camp" military picture, with the hook of being set at the famous Maryland naval academy of the title. This is only partly true, as the film is actually a combination boot camp movie and boxing movie; ("An Officer & a Cinderella Man?;) which makes the promoting fairly puzzling: The trailers showing make the film out to be utterly generic, with no hint of the "twist" that it turns into a boxing flick at midpoint and thus becomes sort-of unique.

Unfortunately, sort-of unique doesn't make it sort-of good.

James Franco leads as the angry, authority-phobic blue-collar kid who wills his way into a plebe year at Annapolis. Yup, he's got daddy issues: His dissaproving-papa is a hard-bitten shipyard worker toiling at the very dock across the bay from the academy. Really. Along with his standard-issue uniform, the Academy helpfully provides standard-issue army movie buddies: Philosophizing Black Guy, Slick Hispanic Guy and, my favorite, Straight Arrow Asian Guy. What's more, the new gender-neutral Navy affords the opportunity to drag Jordana Brewster in as a drill sergeant spin on the "hot teacher" cliche'. Tyrese Gibson rounds out the gang, flexing and glowering in the R. Lee Ermey "uber-mean drill instructor" part.

So here we go: Franco's Cadet Huard is an "I don't need no help from nobody!" sulking-Brando type who's mainly at Annapolis to fulfill a promise to his dead mom that he go there. He predictably butts heads with Gibson's hard-ass instructor, here presented (in the film's only real inspiration) not as the typical snarling, crusty sadist but as a 30-ish Marine Corps. vet who aims to be EXTRA hard on his Annapolis cadets because "he's seen what good and bad officers can do." Not much, but it's a start.

Oddly missing from the film is Gibson's line from the trailer about being so hard on Franco's character "because he believes in him," odd because it leaves no real rationale for their conflict until the story is more than half-over, when they clash over a fellow cadet's suicide attempt that Huard blames on his instructor. And at that point, their macho antler-locking has driven Huard to throw himself into The Brigades, an Academy-wide boxing tournament where (of course) Gibson's character awaits as the Final Combatant.

The film isn't so much bad as it is uninspired. Nothing happens that most won't see coming, and the meshing of two well-worn genres doesn't yield much new energy. Think of a scene you've seen too often in too many boxing films or too many boot camp films, and it's gotta be in here. Director Justin Lin, late of "Better Luck Tommorrow," knows his way around scene construction but can't really invigorate stale material.

Most dissapointingly, given the title and promotion, the film doesn't really give any sense of the actual Annapolis, it's culture or even it's atmosphere. The Navy apparently did not grant much access to the site, and has not endorsed the film based on misleading details it contains about the actual training regimen at the school. Frankly, I'm with the Navy on this one: This may not be a bad or offensive film, but it's a boring one and Annapolis deserves better.