'Annapolis' fails to earn honors


James Franco stars as a young man who enters the U.S. Naval Academy in "Annapolis."

Touchstone Pictures
Published: Friday, January 27, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 26, 2006 at 11:07 p.m.

Facts

Annapolis

RATED: PG-13
STARS: James Franco, Tyrese Gibson, Jordana Brewster
THEATER: Royal Park

You can't remake "An Officer and a Gentleman" without Louis Gossett, Jr.
And you can't reduce the academics, the honor, the testing of one's mettle and the seamanship of the U.S. Naval Academy to a simple tale of boxing.
But Disney's "Annapolis" tries to float that by us. And sinks.
Even the ritual military hazing is watered down in this tale of a working-class rebel who doesn't let a lazy intellect, lousy study habits, an inability to work with a team and a serious crush on a female upper-classman stop him from pursuing his late mama's dream that he attend the Naval Academy. The Academy is just across the river from the shipyard where dear old dad builds the Navy's latest, and where he expects young Jake to take up the family torch - and weld.
Jake's a pretty boy, a faux blue-collar worker, a mediocre student and a lousy welder. But 34 straight days of nagging his congressman gets him into the Naval Academy. So that's how it works!
Of course, he has to mistake a sexy wisp of an upperclasswoman (Jordana Brewster, this generation's Demi Moore) for a hooker before he even walks on the campus. Somehow, this script is going to have to hook them up, because this generation's Rob Lowe always gets this generation's Demi Moore. Jake doesn't memorize the history, geography or science of a plebe (freshman) - but then, neither do the filmmakers. And Jake won't take help from his rainbow coalition of roomies - Loo (Roger Fan), the over-studious Asian, Estrada (Wilmer Calderon), the womanizing Latino, or Twins (Vicellous Reon Shannon), the overweight small-town black kid who can't master the obstacle course.f-z Jake runs afoul of his midshipman commander, played without wit or heat by Tyrese Gisbon. The mid won't let this slacker punk into "his" Academy. And the only way the plebe (freshman) can get even is in the boxing ring, the annual "Brigades" no-headgear tourney.
"Annapolis" would be a letdown even if all we were led to expect was a feeble "First Year at the Academy" drama, or a genre boxing picture. But its director, Justin Lin, did the marvelous Asian-overachievers-kill drama "Better Luck Tomorrow." For Lin to churn out this drivel, complete with racial stereotypes, is a dreadful disappointment.
From the obviously fake ship yard (they used matte paintings to fiddle with geography) to the repeated violations of what most of us recognize as the "Code" of the Academy, to the absurd casting of people who couldn't physically hack the Academy's physical requirements, "Annapolis" fails.
The hazing and verbal abuse always shown in these movies becomes a feeble thing, with only the occasional profanity or racial put-down blurting from these politically correct instructors. Screenwriter David Collard got away with dirtier talk when he wrote for the TV show "Family Guy."
Franco acts by flexing his jaw. The boxing has to be edited in lightning cuts to make him a convincing foe in the ring. Only Chi McBride, as the pot-bellied boxing instructor, and Donnie Wahlberg, the former New Kid from the wrong side of the tracks who plays a blue-collar admissions officer, look as if they belong. Their occasional appearances are all that make this the least bit watchable.
The rest? They would've flunked out of the real Annapolis by Christmas.

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