There are so many ways to criticize “Annapolis” that I hardly know where to start. You could write a thesis paper on the things wrong with this movie.
People more knowledgeable on the subject than I am have already ripped the movie apart for its flagrant inaccuracies regarding life at the Annapolis Naval Academy. I know almost nothing about it, yet even I smelled something fishy when the officer kissed the underclassman, I don’t care if it WAS summer break.
Personally, I’m depressed by the movie. It was directed by Justin Lin, whose first feature was “Better Luck Tomorrow,” a crackling 2002 Sundance entry and one of the most auspicious debuts from a young director I’ve ever seen. That movie was alive with bright ideas, dark humor and wry social commentary, and stylishly filmed to boot.
Now comes “Annapolis,” Lin’s disappointingly ordinary and lifeless follow-up. The movie is mediocre by any standards, but knowing it came from a talented director makes it sadder.
Written by “Family Guy” scribe David Collard, who has apparently had his sense of humor removed since working for that show, “Annapolis” is a dream-comes-true story about Jake Huard (James Franco), a kid from the wrong side of the tracks who manages to get accepted into the Naval Academy. Once he’s there, he bucks the system, stands up for himself, makes everyone realize how wise and strong he is, makes his working-class dad utter clichÃ©s like “I know I haven’t been the best father,” punches a superior officer in the face but avoids expulsion by being semi-justified in doing it, and blah blah blah. BLAH BLAH BLAH, I tell you.
There’s the commanding officer (McCaleb Burnett) who’s racist and gives both the Puerto Rican Estrada (Wilmer Calderon) and the overweight Nance (Vicellous Reon Shannon) a hard time. There’s the other commanding officer, Lt. Cole (Tyrese Gibson), who is tough on the new recruits but treats them fairly, like a surrogate father. There’s the hot lady officer (Jordana Brewster), whom Jake flirts with in a bar the night before he enters the Academy, only to discover the next morning that she’s one of his superiors!!!!!!!!!!!! (If I were a movie character, I would just assume that any stranger I had an embarrassing or confrontational encounter with would turn out to be my boss and/or love interest.)
The scenes of basic training are “Full Metal Jacket” Lite, all half-hearted yelling and struggling, and Jake’s growth as a character is minimal. In fact, the whole point is that he was fine the way he was — it’s Annapolis that ought to change to be more like him.
Jake’s dream since childhood has been to attend the Academy and join the Navy, but I’m not sure why. He rebels against the precision, rigidity and order of it, so what, then, does he love about the Navy? The hats?
One thing he does love is boxing. He loved it when he worked at his dad’s Maryland shipyard, and he continues to excel when he participates in the Academy’s boxing program, which culminates each year in a tournament called the Brigades. Here the movie does a curious thing. It stops being a by-the-numbers underdog-beats-the-odds story and becomes a generic boxing story instead. You get two mediocre movies for the price of one.
Every now and then, there’s a camera movement or a shot composition that reminds me that Lin is a savvy director. Did his supervisors at Disney (a soul-sucking corporation if ever there was one) make him take out the artful shots for fear the film wouldn’t be commercial enough? Or did he simply lose the desire to make them somewhere between hitting it big with “Better Luck Tomorrow” and signing a deal with the devils at Disney?
Ugh. I just noticed what his next project is: a “Fast and the Furious” sequel. Maybe the Justin Lin of “Better Luck Tomorrow” is gone forever. Like I said, “Annapolis” is a bad movie anyway, clichÃ©-ridden and shopworn, but as a document of a once-promising director slowly sliding into mainstream banality, it’s even worse.
C- (1 hr., 48 min.; )