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ANNAPOLIS
U.S. Release Date: January 27, 2006
Distributor: Buena Vista
Director: Justin Lin
Producer: Mark Vahradian
Composer: Brian Tyler
Cast: James Franco, Tyrese Gibson, Jordana Brewster
Running Time: 1 hour and 48 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (some violence, sexual content and language)

Naval Boxing Picture a Top Gun of Cliches
by Scott Holleran

Deprived of water and war, the United States Navy themed Annapolis is lacking what one associates with the Navy, substituting boxing for a more substantial tribute to the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. But it manages to get the job done.

Led by Spider-Man's best friend James Franco, who pouts and poses like Richard Gere in An Officer and a Gentleman, Annapolis plays strictly by the book, but it makes for a decent hoo-rah. Director Justin Lin (Better Luck Tomorrow) boxes the standard underdog script by Dave Collard into a steadily paced series of pictures and scenes.

Franco plays Jake Huard, a slug of a kid who works in the shipyard with his pop. Jake's late mother wanted something better for her son, and the boilerplate movie is about Jake trying to achieve it, learning to accept help from others, hang in there and focus on being his best. Managing to convince us that a thickhead—and is this kid thick—from the sticks would want to become a Navy officer and fall for a feisty, ponytailed superior (a job well done by Jordana Brewster), Franco fits the part.

Jake looks across the waterfront, longing to be part of an institution that represents excellence—with pictures speaking louder than words, especially early in the movie—and we know we're in solid B-movie territory. Once his application is accepted by the Academy, he has to catch up to the rest of the plebes, win the Navy honey (Brewster) he met in a bar and gain Pop's approval. Phew. As if that's not enough, director Lin piles on rather than peels away, and always by the numbers. And that's before the movie turns to boxing as its mainstay.

Seems moody Jake's a fierce fighter with something to prove. With the requisite tough commanding officer (Tyrese Gibson) breathing down his neck, and the usual insecurities and obstacles, the big match—the Academy's storied Brigades—looms over Annapolis with the subtlety of an aircraft carrier.

The clichés are packed like sardines: the working-class best friend—the tough sports trainer—the ill-fated plebe—the testy bunkmate turned ally—the training montage, replacing heavy metal with trippy electronica. It's like Rudy met Rocky for a round of pool with Top Gun and An Officer and a Gentleman.

Writer Collard's seriousness aligns with Lin's knack for strong characters—Jake's friendship with an out-of-shape, likable small town kid (Vicellous Shannon) provides good humor—to wrestle the formula into something watchable. Sure, this movie has its drawbacks—Donnie Wahlberg's lieutenant character adds nothing—and its theme is basic bootstraps stuff that doesn't come anywhere near reflecting the Academy's impeccable standards, but, even with too many hands on deck, it moves briskly.

Among the highlights: a slow dancing scene between Franco and Brewster, who have good chemistry, that cashes in on their admittedly thin relationship of equals, and—besides the friendship story—boxing scenes that knock it into next Tuesday. But boxing isn't what Annapolis is supposed to be about—it's what Franco's Jake character happens to be good at—and, if that's acceptable, so is the unremarkable and inoffensive Annapolis.


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