Go into “Annapolis” expecting a pre-hung script for a Hollywood military drama, and you won’t be disappointed.

A bulked-up James Franco (“Spider-Man” and TV’s “Freaks and Geeks”) stars as Jake Huard, an underdog Annapolis “plebe,” in this “Top Gun” meets “An Officer and a Gentleman” effort.


Jake builds ships with his father (Brian Goodman) in Annapolis, and dad wants him to join the union. But Jake promised his deceased mother he’d get into the naval academy.


Precious few minutes into the script, his dream comes true. The admissions board overlooks his mediocre grades and offers him a slot when one opens up.


Jake crosses the river, not the proverbial railroad tracks, and is enrolled at the academy, where almost all the action occurs. “Action” in this kind of movie translates into scene after scene of having the underdog belittled, emotionally abused, physically pummeled and pushed to the edge of perseverance. Watching people under duress is so much fun …


The main conduit for such treatment is Jake’s commanding officer, Lt. Cole (Tyrese Gibson). Cole thinks Jake isn’t up to snuff, and he’s determined to make his opinion evident. Jake and Cole’s conflict is ultimately played out in the boxing ring—the only place where everyone at the academy is equal—as Jake aims to make the Brigades (the academy’s annual boxing championships).


Jake benefits from a love interest (Jordana Brewster) and a loyal roommate (Vicellous Reon Shannon), the latter of whom has the pleasure of delivering the movie’s best dialogue in a scene about why he continues to hang around the under-performing Jake.


There’s lots of teeth-grinding and temple-flexing as underlings are made to restrain their frustration and anger while standing at attention, but Franco and company do this oh so well. There’s an aside about gender issues in the military, as well as the strain plebes like Jake feel. The problem is it expects that serious issues—like life and death—can somehow be navigated and clarified through a three-round boxing match.


Speaking of the boxing scenes, while their punched-up Hollywood sound effects make them entertaining, the cutting is so fast, jerky and close-up that you don’t really see the boxing as much as feel it. There’s a place for this approach, but it’s becoming the norm—which makes me wonder: Will action choreography—missing here—become a lost art?


It’s also disappointing that Jake appears to care about the academy only insofar as it marks a promise fulfilled. When he says he wants to serve his country, you don’t really believe him.


Nevertheless, “Annapolis” has its guilty pleasures. Donnie Wahlberg makes good on his small part, and the interpersonal dynamics among Jake’s diverse roommates are fun to explore.


At the very least, “Annapolis” makes an entertaining public service announcement about one of the military academies—much like “Top Gun” did some 20 years ago.


Cliff Vaughn is culture editor for EthicsDaily.com.


MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some violence, sexual content and language. Reviewer’s Note: Some bad language, drinking at the local bar, lots of boxing blows to the head, and a conversation about picking up a prostitute that’s framed in a positive light.

Director: Justin Lin

Writer: Dave Collard

Cast: Jake Huard: James Franco; Lt. Cole: Tyrese Gibson; Ali: Jordana Brewster; Lt. Cmdr. Burton: Donnie Wahlberg; Twins: Vicellous Reon Shannon; Loo: Roger Fan; Estrada: Wilmer Calderon; Whitaker: McCaleb Burnett; Bill Huard: Brian Goodman.


The movie’s official Web site is here.


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