Rated PG-13, 103 min. Directed by Justin Lin. Starring James Franco, Tyrese Gibson, Jordana Brewster, Wilmer Calderon, Donnie Wahlberg, Vicellous Reon Shannon.
Justin Lin’s promising 2002 film Better Luck Tomorrow – about a group of overachieving Asian-American schoolkids who get wrapped up in a murder – never fully engaged me while managing to woo other critics (and more than a few Sundancers) into a state of rapturous bliss. Compared to that challenging film, Annapolis is a thick but hardly meaty slice of old-school Hollywood hokum, the sort of film that in decades past might have attracted actors like Montgomery Clift or even John Wayne. As it stands, it’s a flimsy, all-too-predictable yawner that makes life at the legendary Naval Academy seem like a snore. If our future admirals are anything like Franco’s dopey-eyed plebe, we might as well scuttle the fleet right now. (Lin has recently been tagged to helm the U.S. remake of the superlative South Korean mind-warper Oldboy, which may or may not be a good idea.) Franco, looking for all the world like the bastard offspring of James Dean and Matt Dillon, is Jake Huard, a young riveter at the Navy’s shipyard who has dreamed of entering Annapolis since the death of his mother years ago. When he lucks in, Jake finds himself drilled to death by Midshipman Cole (Gibson), a former Marine and this film’s none-too-subtle version of An Officer and a Gentleman’s Louis Gossett Jr. Ricocheting between Jake’s panicky drive not to wash out and an emerging romantic subplot with the luminous Jordana Brewster, Annapolis elicited groans and the occasional burst of laughter from the audience, thanks to a ham-fisted script from former Family Guy writer David Collard that piles on the clichés one after the other until the whole affair begins to buckle under the weight of its own ironclad silliness. It’s not enough to include the requisite overlong training montage – Lin and Pollard also feel the need to toss in a rogues gallery of boot-camp stereotypes, including the Loudmouth (Calderon), the Crusty Old Salt (Wahlberg), and the Fat Guy Who’s Doomed From the Start (Shannon). Much of this could be forgiven were it not for the singular fact that, as the film’s centerpoint, Franco’s plebe has little resembling a serious backstory or even a sense of motivation beyond the obvious. Why is he here to begin with? "To serve my country," he tells Midshipman Cole. But the line, like the film, has the hollow ring of bullshit that sinks the film like a torpedo to the engine room. Best never to have left dry dock with this one.
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