In Annapolis, James Franco plays a dead-end kid from the wrong side of the tracks with a chip on his shoulder and a fire in his belly, and if those aren't enough clichÃs for you, hold on, there's plenty more where they came from. A recruitment poster that doesn't get around to mentioning, until the very last scene, where today's recruits are likely to wind up, Annapolis tries to combine An Officer and a Gentleman with Rocky, plus a dash or two of Top Gun. But the movie never really takes on a life of its own. It's too busy following the old formulas ' correction, trying to follow the old formulas. Director Justin Lin and scriptwriter Dave Collard know they're supposed to get from Point A to Point B. They just don't know how to get there.
As he showed in "Freaks and Geeks" and TNT's James Dean biopic, Franco knows how to act, but he has a tendency to close himself off, send out ever-fainter distress signals. And he may not have the gung-ho charisma this role calls for. When the movie opens, Jake is a welder who builds ships across the river from the U.S. Naval Academy, but he doesn't find rivets all that riveting. And ' cue the violins, please ' he promised his dearly departed mother he would be all that he can be, or whatever the naval equivalent to being all that you can be is. Thus he enters the academy from the bottom of the waiting list, a status that seems to suggest, in his superior officers' minds, that he doesn't have any business being there in the first place.
How silly of them. But Jake doesn't exactly help matters by refusing to become a team player (so what's he doing there, then?) and by flunking every knowledge-based test thrown at him. Only boxing, which the naval academy uses as a way of "finding out who you are," offers him a chance of redeeming himself. All he has to do is get past Midshipman Lt. Cole, a killing machine played by Tyrese Gibson. Evoking the young Denzel Washington, Gibson is so quietly explosive that you wish the movie were built around him instead. He's playing one of those guys who's so tough he's either going to win the Congressional Medal of Honor or get court-martialed. And he does it while rarely raising his voice.
The boxing scenes fail to land a punch, shot so close you can barely tell who's who. And the scenes between Franco and Jordana Brewster, who plays the love interest (if that's what you want to call it), also go down for the count. Brewster's Ali, who looks like Demi Moore back when the Brat Pack was stalking the multiplex, is supposed to be a top-flight boxing trainer, but she wouldn't last five seconds in the ring with Hilary Swank. Alas, Annapolis might have been enjoyable in a you-know-the-drill kind of way; we're hard-wired to respond to these stories. But the filmmakers don't seem to know the drill. They're always turning left when they should be turning right. If they were here with me now, I'd tell them to drop and give me 20.