Annapolis is a return to the kind of testosterone-driven military stories of the 1980s, with a muscular and strong-jawed hero learning the ropes in Basic Military Training amid a lot of external pressure on all sides to give up. That, as any who have taken part in such training, is the point of the entry process of the United States military - to break the bodies and spirits of its members until they have only the foundation on which to build something new. It also, based on this movie, doesn't make for good melodrama. If the first and better half of 1987's Full Metal Jacket is the obvious inspiration for Dave Collard's screenplay, it only serves to highlight how much less insightful this film is.

The hero is Jake Huard (James Franco), an aspiring boxer whose dead-end life is upended upon being approached to join (and, ultimately, swearing into) the Naval Academy of Annapolis, Maryland. He bunks with "Twins" (Vicellous Shannon), so named by a racist training instructor for his bulkier figure, Loo (Roger Fan), and Estrada (Wilmer Calderon), whose recklessness causes their fleet a lot of grief. He clashes with Cole (Tyrese Gibson), another CO who has similar aspirations of boxing to Jake's, and falls for Ali (Jordana Brewster), the lone female CO whom Jake meets at a bar and underestimates.

That last characteristic trait reflects poorly upon Jake as a protagonist in Collard's screenplay, and Justin Lin's flatfooted direction only helps to underline that fact. Much here hinges upon montages of Cole's repeated attempts to hammer some discipline into Jake's cosseted existence and Jake's repeated attempts to prove himself worthier than he is. He can hold himself well in a fight, but he has no genuine respect for authority and he is shown to underestimate everyone around him to an annoying fault. Franco's straitlaced performance is fine, but there's an undeniable feeling that the actor can't make sense of his conflicted character.

Collard and Lin clearly cannot make sense of him or of the film around him, which eventually offers a final act that is completely out-of-character with all who came before it. Chekhov's Gun returns in the form of the sport of boxing, setting Jake and Cole against each other in physical combat that wishes to resolve conflict that, if the characters were smarter, could be solved any other way than through violence. It's the case of a movie embracing its empty machismo without confronting its presence in the characters.

It's also the case of a strong start, when we are witness to Jake's bored home life, being betrayed by the machinations of the screenplay: His father (played by Brian Goodman) wants him for factory work and both appreciates and resents his desire to serve his country, which leads to a powerfully performed scene of confrontation between the two that levels the playing field on both ends. Unfortunately, the film falls into formula once he reaches the Naval Academy and never picks itself back up. Annapolis basically amounts to saying the obvious - that Basic Military Training toughens you up - by way of a less obvious and more disingenuous emotional trick - that its toughness can be solved with a bit of boxing.

Film Information

James Franco (Jake), Tyrese Gibson (Cole), Jordana Brewster (Ali), Donnie Wahlberg (Burton), Vicellous Shannon (Twins), Roger Fan (Loo), Wilmer Calderon (Estrada).

Directed by Justin Lin and written by Dave Collard.

Rated PG-13 (violence, sexual content, language).

104 minutes.

Released on January 27, 2006.

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