Our nation is at war, and thus in Justin Lin's drama, Annapolis -- set in these troubled times at the U.S. Naval Academy -- it should come as no surprise that these officers-in-training, these guardians of our national security, are single-mindedly focused on amateur boxing.
Yes, it was news to me, too. Never mind the high seas, the bridge or even the midshipman's annual ball; apparently there is no greater stand a sailor can make than in the squared circle.
So in this Rocky-joins-the-Navy throwaway, it's a nice bit of luck that our hero, Jake Huard (James Franco), has a background in two-bit pugilism. Because his crappy grades and low-rent townie background (he rivets at a shipyard magically located just across the Severn River from the academy) mean he's barely been accepted. Establishing right off the bat that Annapolis will be a string of cheesy movie clichés, Huard gets his letter hand-delivered to the docks by a lieutenant commander the day before school starts! Hooray for the Navy's outreach.
Huard, who has the requisite gloomy mug, shiftless blue-collar buddies, distant dad and a chip the size of frigate on his shoulder, grudgingly becomes a plebe. He rooms with a pack of Hollywood multiculti cut-outs (a gentle, overweight black man, an overachieving Asian and a hot 'n' sassy Puerto Rican), and immediately runs afoul of his hard-assed, stone-faced superior officer, Lt. Cole (Tyrese Gibson).
Watching Annapolis, you'd be hard-pressed to explain what makes the joint academically rigorous; scenes of exercising easily outnumber instances of brain activity (and even these are ridiculous: a field trip to a boat, Navy trivia and what looks like a more complicated version of Battleship). Still, when you've got hot guys with torsos you can bounce quarters off of and no real plot, why not dead ahead for the Brigades, the academy's springtime boxing match, open to all regardless of rank? Say, what a swell way for Huard to show that big meanie Lt. Cole that he's a man too!
Lin cues up the training sequences we've seen a billion times before, with Huard getting some secret late-night training from Lt. Cmdr. Burton (Donnie Wahlberg) and his commanding officer (Jordana Brewster), with her Kewpie-doll face and form-fitting uniforms. The actual bouts are incoherent, a hyperkinetic flurry of fists, jerky head shots and amped-up sound effects. No choreographed sweet science here -- just crash, boom, bang. We'll know we have a winner when the music swells.
It's not clear why Lin, who made the much more interesting indie coming-of-age dramedy Better Luck Tomorrow in 2002, would chose to helm this predictable and dull hybrid of Rocky and An Officer and a Gentleman. It's even more curious that, given the cooperation of the Navy (the story is filmed on location), all we get is a generic, shallow story about pride and integrity that could fit on the flap of a matchbook. A scrappy kid can win a boxing match anywhere -- is that all today's Navy has to offer the best of the best? But maybe such YMCA hi-jinks are a better recruitment tool than the complicated headache of war -- which, notwithstanding a body-bag stunt, isn't mentioned once.
Even if we buy into the film's tired analogy about discovering one's mettle while focusing on the big bout, planning to deck one's superior officer still reads like pettiness left over from the schoolyard. This is the stuff of comic books, not of building competent warriors. A military runs on discipline and on sublimating personal desires for the good of the unit (a fact mentioned once, and blithely ignored by our self-centered hero).
If it's a rousing message you want from Annapolis, expect it to be muddled. The U.S. Navy: It's not just a job; it's three rounds with the boss.