Losing Formula

This movie, supposedly about the Naval Academy, is actually a terrible boxing movie

I had a buddy who went to the U.S. Naval Academy back in the '80s. He went away a fairly jovial sort and came back an angry young man. He told me stories about commanding officers punching him in the face until his nose broke. I lost track of him, but I'm pretty sure he was out of there fairly soon.

According to the new film Annapolis, the place doesn't look all that bad. Sure, the boot camp is a little rough, and one "plebe" takes a leap from his dormitory window, but, for the most part, things are pretty manageable in what's supposed to be one of the toughest training courses the country has to offer. Heck, the lead even gets to make out with one of his superiors at the graduation ceremony.

This is about as hokey as things can get at the movies. Jake (James Franco), a riveter who works in a shipyard within eyeshot of the academy, longs to be a Naval officer (echoes of Jennifer Beals in Flashdance). His grades are crap, but he's devilishly handsome. His persistence gets him a berth, much to the chagrin of his riveter father, who'd rather he perform his welds with less bubbles in them. Jake joins a freshman class that includes a mass of stereotypes: the fat guy who hides snack foods, the serially straight-laced Asian guy who turns in his mates for lying, the rebellious Hispanic guy, etc. They all get their asses kicked by Cole (Tyrese Gibson), the new millennium's answer to Louis Gossett Jr. from An Officer and a Gentleman.

There are some scenes of cadets doing push-ups in the rain, and cadets getting contraband Twinkies smeared on their bodices by peeved superiors. On occasion, someone gets a surprise quiz regarding military knowledge. Otherwise, this film concentrates on a boxing tournament called the Brigade, where Jake will face Cole in the finals, much like Richard Gere's showdown with Gossett in Gentleman.

Annapolis is actually much more of a boxing movie than an in-depth study of what it's like for young recruits at the naval academy. Jake isn't so much concerned with future service overseas or the latitude of whatnot. He's much more worried about his jab and whether or not a hot cadet (a hilariously miscast Jordana Brewster) wants to do him.

Too bad director Justin Lin can't film a boxing scene for squat. Just try to follow the action in any of the film's jumbled matches, where there's no deciphering who is throwing punches. Franco and Gibson appear to have the physical chops to pull off their roles, but Lin and company insist upon flash editing and camera tricks, making the fight impossible to follow. Watching it is a true headache inducer.

Will Jake beat the crap out of his commanding officer, Rocky-style, thus proving his qualifications to be a naval officer, because he had to eat a lot of Snickers to make the heavyweight class? Will naval code be breached with a hot Annapolis makeout session between naughty cadets? Will the fat guy wake up from his coma in time to instill Jake with fiery hope via the patented "You gotta do this, man!" speech? Will Jake's dad show up to the final boxing match, meet eyes with his son as he leaves the ring, and shoot him that "I'm proud of you son!" nod? Will the day ever come when Hollywood bigwigs jettison this formulaic crap in favor of more cerebral fare?

This is pretty painful stuff. It actually made me long for Richard Gere making out with Debra Winger to the tune of "Up Where We Belong," and I hated that movie. But hey, kids, according to Hollywood, all you have to do in order to become elite naval officer candidate is put on some weight and learn how to throw a right hook. Never mind those grades; just do your best Sly Stallone impersonation, and you're in.

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