February 2, 2006

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FILM: Annapolis (PG-13)

by Amy Diaz

The head of a military movie is stuck to the body of a boxing movie in Annapolis, a film that is really all about seeing well-built guys without their shirts on.

Specifically, we get to see Tyrese Gibson without his shirt on, which, yay! We also get to see James Franco without his shirt on, which, frankly, is less exciting.

I suspect all of this shirtless men action is part of the movieís plan to dazzle us with pecs and astound us with six-pack abs and overall make us forget that though we were promised a never-say-die military movie what we got was in fact an everything-leads-up-to-the-big-fight boxing movie. At some point, some junior assistant-to-the-Best boy or something might have pointed out this story bait-and-switch. The response? I know, said some executive producer, oil up the hot boys and have them disrobe from time to time. People will be in the parking lot looking for their keys before it dawns on them that the story made no sense.

Ah, you crafty Annapolis crew, you almost got me with your oddly lingering shots of Gibsonís biceps. But Iím on to you.

Before Jack Huard (James Franco) can bare his chest in a Naval Academy boxing ring, he shows off those working- class muscles in a shipyard where he works as a riveter post-high school. Itís a good union job, his daddy says. But, growing up just across the water from Annapolis, Jackís always dreamed of the academy and a life in the bigger world. Then, the day before school starts and Huardís dream can officially drift away into the stuff of late-night weeping sessions and Bruce Springsteen songs, Lt. Cmdr. Burton (Donnie Wahlberg, looking 10 years wearier than his age) shows up at the shipyard, An Officer and a Gentleman-style, to tell the wait-listed Huard that a spot has opened up so get yerí gear and show up at oh-six-hundred (ah, I love it when they speak in military time).

Huard shows up at school and promptly becomes what one of his roommates calls the Mississippi of the group ó that is, the guy that makes everybody else look good by comparison. Huard might be physically hard enough for the drop-and-give-me-20 life of a plebe (first-year academy student) but heís hardly got the mental fortitude. In fact, heís sort of a whiner (a character trait accentuated by Francoís permanent look of mope) who wonít ask for help or do the work needed to improve or accept any of that chain of command stuff that the military is so insistent about. He quickly makes an enemy of upperclassman Cole (Gibson), a former Marine who is really something of a joyless buzzkill ó though, for the life of me, I canít remember why other than that it makes the plot go faster. Soon, Huard finds himself with no friends except the annoyingly patient Ali (Jordana Brewster), another upperclassman but one who wants to do a whole different kind of wrestling with Huard. Completely out of his element, Huard turns to the one Navy thing that heís familiar with: boxing. He knows that Cole is going to be the big champion of the end-of-the-year boxing competition and Huard wants to be there to get an officially sanctioned, non-superior-officer-disrespecting chance to slug Cole in the mouth.

So, despite all sorts of rich story possibilities in the character-changing transition of a first-year student at a military academy, the pall that an ongoing war might put on these young people, the different reasons people have for taking up the uniform (reasons indirectly hinted at in Annapolis), this movie decides to go another way. It goes the way of the standard sports movie and builds its plot around the Big Game, which in this case is the Big Boxing Match. The plot jerk leaves you with a bit of whiplash, though I do believe the soothing balm of hot guys is meant to relieve any muscle pain from that. Sorry, Annapolis, but Gibsonís chest is no Valium, it isnít even an extra-strength Tylenol. You canít drug-induced-haze away the silliness of this plot.

Perhaps itís the plot switcheroo that left the actors confused and disinterested as well. Wahlberg aside, none of the other actors puts much effort into the movie (though Gibson does turn in a performance that Iím sure he thinks is serious but really comes off more as ďconstipatedĒ). With indifferent performances and weak plot, even soaring music canít keep this ship from sinking.

D

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