Justin Lin's astonishingly patchwork Annapolis starts off like a lazy retread of Top Gun or An Officer and a Gentleman before absent-mindedly morphing into an exceedingly tiresome Xerox of Rocky. Along the way we get huge and familiar chunks lifted from flicks like Good Will Hunting, Dead Poets Society, and literally every single miltary movie ever made. Like, ever.
Oh, and apparently Annapolis exists as part of an alternate universe in which noody over the age of thirty is allowed to join the U.S. Navy. Frankly I wouldn't have been too shocked if, instead of turning into a stupid boxing flick, Annapolis became a really weird Logan's Run-style sci-fi flick. That would certainly explain all the robotic faces.
Stop me when this ceases to sound familiar: Jake Huard (a gaunt, inert James Franco) is a low-end shipbuilder who dreams of being a Naval Cadet in the gleaming edifice across the river: Annapolis! (Cue majestic music.) Although he's a poor student (and kind of a petulant dolt), Major General Donnie Wahlberg stops by the shipyard to give Jake an envelope full of Naval acceptance. Only Jake's going to work extra hard, what with his being four weeks behind all the other recruits, not to mention his lame attitude and lack of intelligence.
The night before his arrival at Annapolis, Jake clumsily woos a lovely young girl, even going so far as to imply that she's a hooker. Imagine Jake's (and your) surprise when said girly ends up being his Naval Academy superior. (Yikes.) And then we're introduced to the supporting cast: cadets Hispanic Sass, Asian Snoot, and Chunky Black. Oh, and the lieutenant is a real ballbuster, too, a plot revelation that really threw me for a loop. (Did I mention that Jake has an emotionally distant and perpetually disapproving daddy? Yeah, he does.)
So Jake sucks at everything, gets yelled at, starts boxing, learns to be a non-sniveling little weiner, earns the respect of his fellzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz...
Seriously, if there's not an age-old cliché, concept, trope, or stereotype that director Justin Lin and screenwriter David Collard did not employ in the creation of Annapolis, please drop me an email and let me know what it might be. I'm building a list of the most played-out movie material and I'm only up to number 421.
The characters are paper-thin and cardboard-deep; the innumerable "saw it coming" plot contrivances begin to stack up like so much cinematic cord wood; and there's not even a half-decent surprise or memorable performance to act as an asterisk in this outrageously generic mass. The thing's directed with all the color and energy of a battery commercial; the "morality lessons" are as shallow as they are archaic; and, basically, the whole thing feels like a toothless, formless, shameless piece of pro-Navy propaganda.
And please don't mistake this as a knock on the U.S. Navy, because I admire all our servicemen and I really love boats. But if I were a veteran Navy man -- I think this mush-headed, shallow, facile little flick might really piss me off. The lead character cluelessly fails, fumbles, and stumbles his way through the "very demanding" Naval Academy, but earns a happy ending because he knows how to punch people. Weird.
Video: The anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1) transfer is crystal clean and entirely handsome. Flick looks like a feature-length recruiting commerical.
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround, which delivers the empty dialogue and pugilistic grunts home in fine aural form. Optional subtitles are available in English, French, and Spanish.
Extras: Director Justin Lin, screenwriter Dave Collard, and editor Fred Raskin deliver a feature-length audio commentary that's ... meh. The filmmakers seem personable and very pleased with their movie, but I think the problem is this: There's nothing interesting about Annapolis.
Plebe Year: The Story of Annapolis (11:04) is your (very) standard behind-the-scenes hoo-hah, packed with film clips, self-love, and interviews with folks like producers Damien Saccani (he thought it was "a cool story") and Mark Vahradian ("boxing is a metaphor"), executive producer Steve Nicolaides, director Justin Lin, screenwriter Dave Collard, and actors Tyrese Gibson, Jordana Brewster, and James Franco.
The Brigades (10:16) is a closer look at the movie's "action" scenes. Basically all the training montages and unimpressive boxing matches. Collard, Lin, Franco, cinematographer Phil Abraham, stunt coordinator Nick Powell, and boxing consultant Macka Foley share some meager insights.
Rounding out the disc are seven deleted scenes (with optional filmmaker commentary) and a bunch of Disney sneak peeks.
Back in the 1940s and '50s, they used to make a lot of straight-laced, generic, and insipidly pro-military movies. But at least those flicks were populated by grown-ups and perhaps one or two fresh ideas.
Unless you absolutely have to see every miltary/boxing movie ever made in less than 110 minutes, I'd say Skip It.