It's a college movie. No, it's a boot-camp movie. Wait, it's both. Annapolis takes place at the U.S. Naval Academy (commonly called Annapolis) in Maryland, one of the five American institutions of higher education for kids who just can't seem to make up their mind whether to join the armed forces or attend university following high school. Well, that is putting it rather simply. Like the U.S. Military Academy (West Point), the U.S. Air Force Academy, the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy and the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, Annapolis preps its students to become officers in its respective branch of the military in addition to awarding them bachelor degrees. It doesn't charge tuition — in fact it pays those enrolled a weekly salary — but the Naval Academy is one or the toughest schools to get into, and it is even tougher to remain in.
This doesn't stop Jake Huard (James Franco), one of the incoming freshman, or plebes, in Annapolis' class of 2008.
He manages to be admitted despite his lack of good grades. I assume he also falls short in the areas of SAT and ACT
scores, leadership experience and any number of other expectations the school is likely to have of its applicants. What
he does have is a dream, which he's had since he first laid eyes on the campus from his home across the river, as
well as a nomination from a congressman — a requirement, not a guarantee, for acceptance. Oh, and he likes
See, I tricked you. What Annapolis really is, more than a college movie or a boot-camp movie, is a boxing movie, and a run of the mill one at that. Boy, was I ever surprised! I haven't yet encountered a boxing movie I like, and I would no sooner re-watch Raging Bull or Rocky than Teen Wolf Too and Rocky IV. Still, there is so much potential for a boxing movie set amidst such a rigorous environment. Just imagine Sylvester Stallone enduring calculus and chemistry at the same time he's training for the latest bout, or Russell Crowe's Cinderella Man studying economic theories (perhaps those of John Nash, even) while also overcoming poverty and sustaining a comeback.
Well, as it turns out, nothing in Annapolis really elevates the challenges of Jake's goal to win the year-end Brigade championship match, and it fails any prospects for mixing the genres. Huard's transition form amateur boxer to underdog favorite looks like a piece of cake, and getting through the first year of the Naval Academy's intense program seems a mere bother along the way. It will be interesting to see if the Naval Academy sees an increase in applicants this year based on its portrayal in the film, which never does justice to the school's magnitude.
By focusing almost completely on Jake's athletic endeavor, the film gets its conflict confused. Jake's main desire is constantly addressed as the ability to make it through Annapolis. From photographs of him as a boy in a sailor outfit to his continued acknowledgement of a promise made to his late mother, all signs point to a narrative intention that isn't actually followed. Everything in the picture hangs on Jake's boxing. The higher-ranking cadet he likes (Jordana Brewster) winds up being an expert coach. The proud upperclassman (Tyrese Gibson) who poses a threat to the progression of Jake's enrollment is more importantly his adversary in the ring. In fact, nearly every cadet seems involved in intramural boxing. You'd think there aren't any other sports going on at Annapolis, let alone any other activities, at all.
Adding to the false sense of easily attainment into Annapolis is an assortment of ragtag students that I find hard to believe would even desire enrollment, let alone achieve it. Huard's roommates alone include a sleazy, puerile smart-ass (Wilmer Calderon) and a very overweight, small town softy (Vicellous Shannon). While not impossible, there is a certain unlikelihood of the latter passing the school's fitness requirements. Then, there is Loo (Roger Fan), the fourth in their room and the only convincing plebe in the whole cast. Disciplined, honor system obedient, and overachieving, he represents the best of the best you'd expect to find in the academy, and should expect to see filling out the supporting roles. Unfortunately, that wouldn't make for a colorful palette of characters. Besides, every boot camp movie needs that fat body that can't make it up the wall in the obstacle course.
It is this strict discipline to maintain genre traditions that keeps Annapolis from being completely unacceptable. Such conformity of genre basics makes the story correlative to the themes of the military. With any straying from the conventions, the movie may well have taken place anywhere. It could have been about a Boston kid looking across the Charles at MIT or Harvard. But it is orderly, and therefore best suited to the atmosphere of a military academy. Of course, I would rather see it take place in West Point, where at least the Hudson Valley provides for beautiful scenery to look at. Sure, it would make less sense for Huart to grow up across the river from that academy, but I'm biased, having been raised on the athletic rivalry of Army vs. Navy, always rooting for the West Point's Black Knights over Annapolis' Midshipmen.
Anyway, the traditions (or clichés) maintained in Annapolis actually resemble those of the Police Academy series — sans comedy — more than any boot camp army films. At times, there appears an improbable mission within the school's ranks to see the plebes fail. I could be wrong, but I imagine the school's aim is to lead its students to greatness, not drive them to defeat. Plus, one weasily, over demanding underling (McCaleb Burnett) is so reminiscent of Scott Thomson's servile troublemaker character from Police Academy that someone must have intentionally cast a look-alike for the part.
For all the things that Annapolis is and isn't, the most disappointing thing it isn't, is an action movie. Aside from the fact that any sort of action sequence, well-done or not, would make it a more commercial sell to a mainstream audience, and aside from the fact that most critics, myself included, could have done with a bit of excitement to distract from the mundane script, the marketing for the movie all but promises that there is action to be seen. The trailers and commercials include footage of ships at sea and jets in the air, possibly borrowed from a Navy recruitment video, mysteriously absent from the actual movie. And, I'm pretty sure that I saw an explosion of some kind in the trailer that didn't make it in either. So, by this misleading campaign, one might expect the film to follow Jake through his four years and onward, into some kind of combat finale in which he displays the skills learned at the Academy. I sure did.