[Screen It]

(2006) (James Franco, Tyrese Gibson) (PG-13)

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Drama: A shipyard steelworker tries to overcome the odds and obstacles as he enrolls at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis.
Having grown up in Annapolis, MD, and working at the local shipyard across the way, Jake Huard (JAMES FRANCO) has always dreamed of attending the U.S. Naval Academy, but his father (BRIAN GOODMAN) doesn't support him and his grades aren't promising. Accordingly, he hangs out with his buddies, including A.J. (JIM PARRACK), at the local bar, hoping things might some day change.

That chance comes after winning a local boxing bout when Jake meets Navy recruiter Lt. Cmdr. Burton (DONNIE WAHLBERG) who informs him that his repeated requests to get a recommendation from his congressman have paid off. Joining fellow plebes Nance (VICELLOUS SHANNON), Loo (ROGER FAN) and Estrada (WILMER CALDERON), Jake is thrust into the world of the Academy that includes hazing by upperclassman Whitaker (McCALEB BURNETT) and hard physical training under Midshipman Lt. Cole (TYRESE GIBSON) who's previously served in the Marines. Then there's upperclassman Ali (JORDANA BREWSTER) who Jake earlier met at his local hangout, unaware that she'd soon become his superior officer.

As Estrada wants to go out with the ladies, Loo obsessively follows orders and the overweight Nance tries to get in shape and pass physical training while still sneaking junk food, Jake strives to enter the prestigious Brigades boxing tournament run by coach McNally (CHI McBRIDE). Yet, his constant clashes with Cole get in his way. With their first year progressing, the various plebes try to survive their training and prove their worth, including Jake who wants to win over Ali and compete in the boxing tournament, all while overcoming the odds and various obstacles in his way.

OUR TAKE: 3 out of 10
It's a tale probably as old as the military itself. A young man joins the forces and eventually learns to control his ego, independence and stubbornness as he overcomes the odds, obstacles and efforts of his superior officers to thwart his efforts to become a highly trained military man. It's also one we've seen countless times before in the movies where the story focuses on the "boot camp" side before heading into combat or at least some sort of military conflict.

Despite the trailers showing otherwise, the latest such film forgoes the latter in favor of focusing on the first year of training at the U.S. Naval Academy. In doing so, "Annapolis" follows other Navy training flicks such as "An Officer and a Gentleman," while borrowing liberally from films such as "Top Gun," all while lifting entire elements from a more worn-out movie genre, the boxing film.

Rather than Richard Gere battling drill sergeant Louis Gossett, Jr. to prove his worth, we have James Franco clashing with his stern instructor played by the strikingly handsome Tyrese Gibson. Franco could be playing Zack Mayo's son since they share so many character similarities, but then again they're all just check-marked genre characteristics.

Jordana Brewster takes on the Kelly McGillis role from "Top Gun," where our damaged hero meets her in a bar, only to later learn that she's his superior. Gosh, I never saw that coming since I was trying to figure out what was going to happen to the best friend character, played here by Vicellous Shannon who's about the only breath of fresh air to be found in this otherwise recycled production.

While there's no suicide or plane crash as occurred in those other films, there is an incident, apparently because that's what the formula/rule/guidebook says must occur in such films. And then there's all of the boxing material that's so similarly recycled and predictable that every jab, hook and punch can be seen from miles outside the ring, long before any of it's thrown.

All of which is surprising considering that screenwriter David Collard previously wrote a fun little script for the Denzel Washington noir thriller "Out of Time" and director Justin Lin showed a lot of promise and potential in the teens run amok drama "Better Luck Tomorrow." None of the originality or flair from either is on display here. It's as if a computer -- or producing/studio committee -- churned out the script filled with every convention and cliché from both genres and didn't take the time to make any of it interesting.

Besides the fact that there's nothing fresh here (or that the film tries to substitute Philly for Annapolis), the production is stymied by various faults in logic. I won't go into all of them, but I seriously doubt the Naval Academy informs its enrollees the day before training starts that they're in. Or that superior officers would romantically fraternize with the plebes (I know, Brewster's just so gosh darn pretty that the filmmakers couldn't help it, plus they had to live up to the McGillis/Winger standard already set for them and her).

The film's biggest problem, however, lies in its star and his performance. While I never saw him in his lauded portrayal of James Dean in the TV movie of the same name, and thought he was okay as Harry Osborn in the "Spider-Man" flicks, I've yet to be impressed by his thespian abilities in his films that I have seen. Following his lackluster appearance in "Tristan & Isolde" just a few weeks ago, he delivers another blasé performance here that's about as lively as a wet noodle. He obviously doesn't get any help from the weak script, but he only makes Gere and Cruise seem that much more charismatic in their similar roles from long ago.

Gibson also pales in comparison to other "drill sergeant" types from similar films, but is otherwise fairly believable in the part. Donnie Wahlberg is okay but seems to be appearing in another film (maybe that's why he comes and goes so much here). That also holds true for Chi McBride as some sort of boxing coach/instructor/manager, while Brewster's in a thankless role that's lacking in terms of credibility, drama or especially romance (after all, it's hard to woo a wet noodle).

While it has a few entertaining moments and a handful of decent laughs, the rest of "Annapolis" is instantly forgettable stuff. In fact, if you really want to see it, hook up three TVs and simultaneously watch "An Officer and a Gentleman," "Top Gun" and "Rocky" (or most any other boxing film) and you'll come up with the same result -- a tired mishmash of elements from better films. This one fails to make the grade and thus neither soars nor sails toward any sort of greatness. It rates as a 3 out of 10.

Reviewed January 23, 2006 / Posted January 27, 2006

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