June 29, 2006
Annapolis (2006) is a clumsy mash-up of the rah-rah jingoism of Top Gun (1986) with the soapy melodrama of An Officer and A Gentleman (1982) (although, this film tweaks it so that the story plays more like An Officer and An Officer). Jake Huard (Franco) is a young man who works as a welder at a shipyard during the day and boxes nickel and dime fights at night. He’s spinning his wheels until a naval recruiter (Wahlberg) shows up and offers him a shot at the naval academy in Annapolis.
It turns out that Jake doesn’t want to spend the rest of his life helping build ships like his old man and has always dreamed of being in the navy. He soon becomes just another cog in the machine, a plebe like all the other newbies. Jake finds his rebellious ways constantly challenged by the no-nonsense Lt. Cole (Gibson essaying the Lou Gossett Jr. role from An Officer and A Gentleman, only nicer). Jake also finds himself attracted to one of his instructors, the good-looking Ali (Brewster) and during grueling basic training sessions they find time to flirt (but it doesn’t go beyond that in this oddly sexless romance). Jake stubbornly thinks that he can do it all on his own, that there is no I in team but grudgingly learns an important lesson: that, hey, it’s okay to ask for help and gets with the program.
James Franco’s recent choices in roles has been somewhat baffling to say the least. After showing such promise with early turns as James Dean in a made-for-TV biopic, City by the Sea (2002) and making something out of his thankless role in the Spider-Man films, he appeared in the Romeo and Juliet wannabe, Tristan and Isolde (2006) and now this movie which only wastes his considerable talents.
And what the hell happened to Justin Lin’s career? The man has become a textbook example of an independent filmmaker absorbed by the Hollywood machine. While Better Luck Tomorrow (2002) was hardly the most auspicious debut, it at least had something to say. Annapolis, and his latest, The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (2006) are generic time wasters with nothing to say.
Annapolis reads like a laundry list of scenes lifted from other movies. Jake’s first meeting with Ali is a carbon copy of the first time Tom Cruise and Kelly McGillis’ characters meet and flirt with each other in Top Gun. Jake is the same bland rebel who has a problem with authority just like we’ve seen in a million other movies of this type. You even have the pathetic, overweight recruit taken right from Full Metal Jacket (1987), only smarter but with the same love of doughnuts. Annapolis even cribs a bit from G.I. Jane (1997) as Jake gets a chance to beat the crap out of Cole only to be easily beaten down.
Dave Collard’s screenplay is riddled with cliched dialogue, cardboard cut-out stereotypes and it shamelessly rips off countless other movies. At the end of the day, Annapolis is a glossy, big budget recruitment ad for the navy. If this film had any balls it would have ended with Jake being shipped to Iraq and uncertain future instead of an anti-climatic boxing match between Jake and his antagonist, Lt. Cole.
“Plebe Year: The Story of Annapolis” is your standard making of featurette that proves to be just as substantial as the film it promotes. One of the producers thought that it was a “cool story” and this proved to be the impetus for getting it made. Collard and Lin worked for five months on the screenplay but perhaps they should’ve worked a little longer. The director wanted to make Lt. Cole a three-dimensional character but this must’ve been left on the cutting room floor as very little substance is in the final cut.
“The Brigades” takes a look at the annual navy boxing championship where the plebe can settle the score with their instructor in the ring. Franco argues that each successive boxing match is supposed to symbolize Jake’s development.
There are seven deleted scenes with optional commentary by director Justin Lin, screenwriter Dave Collard and editor Fred Haskin. Most of this footage was deemed unnecessary because it repeated things that were already in the movie. Lin had to cut one scene because it showed Jake smoking and the studio didn’t want it in the film.
Finally, there is an audio commentary by Lin, Collard and Raskin. Collard and Lin talk about how they got involved with the film with Lin speaking about his transition from the world of independent film to that of the Hollywood studio system. The director claims that he was drawn to the character-driven nature of the script. The tone is a genial one as the three men chat it up with Collard and Lin providing the bulk of the comments. They marvel at Tyrese Gibson’s popularity and his apparent ability to “do it all.” Another highlight is Collard and Lin talking about the time they spent eating Jell-O and tossing around a football on the Disney lot while spending six months fine-tuning the script.