Avoiding outright jingoism, Justin Lin’s Naval Academy tale of manly maturation Annapolis still functions as an extended “Be All That You Can Be” advertisement for the character-building benefits of military service. Jake Huard (a stern James Franco) goes from constructing ships to learning to command them once his dream of attending the Naval Academy comes true, thereby leading him to leave behind his working-class buddies and father (Brian Goodman) for a life of sit-ups in the rain, obstacle course tests, and degrading (but spirit-toughening) humiliation at the hands of Midshipman Lt. Cole (a glowering Tyrese Gibson). Cole and Huard’s Officer and a Gentleman-style contentiousness is the film’s tough-love center, but Huard’s “plebe year” development also includes a combination of standard-issue melodramatic subplots involving his friction with his unsupportive pop, his friendship with a roommate dubbed, because of his candy bar-produced portliness, “Twins” (Vicellous Reon Shannon), and his nascent romance with a superior (Jordana Brewster) who seems, by conservative estimate, about 10 times too slight to ever cut it at the institute. More than any of these clichéd narrative threads, it’s the bullheaded Huard’s grueling training regimen for the Academy’s famed “Brigades” boxing tournament that most directly mirrors his self-growth, though Lin’s numerous, unevenly staged sparring and fight scenes are also an obvious means of shooting the chiseled Gibson and Franco with their shirts off. This fetishistic interest in macho muscularity—both with regards to its stars’ physiques, as well as to its notion that honing one’s mind goes hand-in-hand with sculpting one’s body—is the film’s most compelling element, if only because Lin otherwise handles the socio-political dynamics of his setup by either ignoring them (as with the multi-culti composition of Huard’s dorm room crew) or using them for simplistic conflict (embodied by Cole’s race-baiting right-hand man). Yet as it makes its way from one underdog-makes-good plot point to another, Annapolis really proves to be simply old-fashioned in the most dull, clunky way possible, pretending that something vital or meaningful is at stake while never once offering up convincingly astringent tension to offset its sweet fairy-tale flavor.
- Justin Lin
- David Collard
- James Franco, Tyrese Gibson, Jordana Brewster, Donnie Wahlberg, Vicellous Reon Shannon, Roger Fan, Wilmer Calderon, McCaleb Burnett, Jim Parrack, Brian Goodman
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