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Monday, January 30, 2006


James Franco's Down for the Count With This Military Boxing Movie

“Annapolis” is just one big clichéd mess. This rip-off of a half dozen better military-themed movies succeeds only in putting itself out there as a potential candidate for the Worst Movie of 2006 title (and the year’s just started).

The poster may evoke an “An Officer and a Gentleman” vibe**, but don’t let that marketing ploy fool you. “Annapolis” is definitely not in any way, shape or form able to pull off even a smidgeon of what “An Officer and a Gentleman” accomplished. While it’s not a remake of that specific film, “Annapolis” does borrow liberally from “An Officer and a Gentleman’s” plot, right down to a suicide attempt which, by the way, generated laughs from the preview audience.

In truth, “Annapolis” reminded me of a junior high production of “An Officer and a Gentleman” retold by cast members who could only recall bits and pieces of the original film.

In this weakly scripted military movie, local boy Jake Huard (James Franco) dreams of going to Annapolis but with a C average it’s not likely he’ll get in. But this is a movie – and a Disney one at that – so of course a spot opens up at the prestigious United States Naval Academy at Annapolis right across the river from the shipyard where Jake toils away with his stereotypical dad.

At Annapolis, Jake’s not accepted by the other plebes and we’re supposed to believe this is because he’s an outsider. It’s actually because he’s just an unfriendly, standoff-ish guy who has a crush on one of his superiors. No, not Tyrese Gibson as Midshipman Lt Cole – remember this is a Disney film. He lusts after Ali (Jordana Brewster), a higher up who he thought was a prostitute when he met her in a bar. Nice…

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Since Jake’s the film’s hero, all the other students who seem to be decent people with normal personalities come around to supporting him. He continues to be obnoxious and more often a jerk than not, but everyone begins to respect his determination to overcome the odds of being a working class, average student who somehow earned a spot at one of the most sought after educational establishments in America.

“Annapolis” employs all the standard military film gimmicks. Don’t know what to do next? Punish the newbies. Run out of anything resembling a real conversation? Scream in someone’s face. Can’t figure out how to move the plot forward? Have a character do a complete about-face personality-wise. It happens time and again in “Annapolis” and the filmmakers don’t seem to have been worried that it doesn’t make sense or that their characters’ personality shifts were so blatantly obvious and nonsensical.

A logical plot was definitely not a requirement for getting Disney to say yes to “Annapolis.” Franco’s character hits a superior officer after a fight’s over – after the bell rings and Lt Cole is exiting the ring. It’s a cheap shot and one that should have made Jake into a target of derision for being such a dirty fighter. But that doesn’t happen. In fact, later in the film he hits the same officer again. Logic dictates either of these two acts would get him booted out of the Academy. However it’s Jake’s roommate who gets kicked out after lying about taking a shower. Now that makes a lot of sense.

This is a boxing movie where we only briefly see any actual exchanges of blows in the boxing ring. The camera work focuses too intensely on one fighter at a time or the boxers’ arms or other fancy tricks. Personally I prefer to be able to watch a boxing match unfold, like was done so well recently in “Cinderella Man,” rather than a mass of choppy trick shots.

“The Great Raid,” “Tristan & Isolde,” and now “Annapolis” have made me lose faith in James Franco. Three strikes and he’s out of there. I’d like to suggest he drop the method acting and get back to simply playing a character. He did it so well in the TV James Dean biopic and much earlier than that in “Freaks and Geeks.” Now it’s all about pouting and brooding and it’s just too much. Looking sullen isn’t interesting so please stop it.

Horribly miscast as James Franco’s military superior, Jordana Brewster does however look fabulous in military garb. And that's the best you can say about this bit of casting. Even after running around a track or stepping into the ring, her hair and make-up remain remarkably in place.

Tyrese Gibson’s not bad as Franco’s nemesis and in fact may be the best thing about “Annapolis.” Donnie Wahlberg’s walk-on role is wasted and supporting players Roger Fan, Macka Foley, McCaleb Burnett, and Chi McBride simply aren’t given anything to work with.

There’s a well-meaning story deeply hidden inside “Annapolis.” An outsider comes into an uncomfortable situation, makes the best of it, persuades people to rethink their opinions, and then wins the girl. I’m assuming that’s what we’re supposed to get out of “Annapolis.” It’s too bad the dialogue, acting, direction, and even the set design and costumes had to get in the way of the film’s ‘little guy follows his dream’ theme.


*By Rebecca Murray

**The movie may not be so good but the poster rocks!


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