Release Date:  January 27, 2006
Rating:  PG-13 (some violence, sexual content and language)
Genre:  Drama
Run Time:  108 min.
Director:  Justin Lin
Actors:  James Franco, Tyrese Gibson, Jordana Brewster, Donnie Wahlberg, Roger Fan, Wilmer Calderon, Brian Goodman, Chi McBride, Vicellous Shannon

We live in a time of war abroad, yet the home front is peaceful enough that we can focus on the usual distractions, such as major sports competitions – the Super Bowl, the upcoming Winter Olympics, not to mention the NBA and NHL seasons. Recent releases like "Jarhead" and "Glory Road" reflect this ongoing dual interest.

A few weeks after the successful debut of "Glory Road," Disney tries to win audiences again by combining war and sports in "Annapolis," a new film set at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md. It’s surprising, therefore, that the film is only tangentially about war – and not altogether about sports. Instead, the storyline treads familiar ground: a young man, given a chance to make it at a top school, struggles to meet the expectations of his superiors. Just when he’s on the verge of giving up, he looks within and manages to achieve things he thought unimaginable.

James Franco stars as Jake Huard, a labor worker at a Maryland shipyard who has long dreamed of attending the Naval Academy. When Lt. Cmdr. Burton (Donnie Wahlberg) gives Huard an unexpected chance to fulfill his dream, he seizes it, but he soon experiences the trial by fire that all freshmen (“plebes”) undergo: harsh language from upperclassmen, group punishments when one plebe breaks the rules or fails to provide the correct answers to questions about Naval Academy history.

The physical punishments administered are made all the more painful because of the sense of shame that comes with failing the other students, such as Huard’s friends Twins (Vicellous Shannon), Loo (Roger Fan) and Estrada (Wilmer Calderon). The school’s rationale for the harsh treatment, Huard is told, is that “a company is only as strong as its weakest link.”

Under the relentless watch of Lt. Cole (Tyrese Gibbs), and to the disappointment of his father (Brian Goodman) and Burton, Huard reaches a breaking point and prepares to leave the Academy. But before doing so, the Brigade Championships – a Navy boxing competition in which, he’s told, “everyone is equal” – gives him a chance to confront Lt. Cole and prove he’s up to the challenges of military life.

Too bad that what is achieved – in a time of war, at a military academy – is boxing glory. After hinting that the story will revolve around ideas of working together to achieve a common good, the filmmakers settle instead for a story of individual fulfillment, awkwardly trying to tie the main characters’ success in the ring to broader principles of military unity.

These attempts are unsuccessful, but the film is far from unbearable. Rather, it’s merely average. The acting is decent, although a romantic subplot between Huard and a female commander (Jordana Brewster) adds little to the main story.

More puzzling is the film’s setting. Just as last year’s Jarhead was criticized for telling a war story with no fighting (which was, the filmmakers contend, the point of the story – although it proved a disappointment for many viewers), "Annapolis" uses the guise of the military to tell yet another story of a young man who triumphs against the odds. Huard isn’t transformed into a war-ready Naval officer, but is honed – through boxing – into a potential officer. By the film’s conclusion, he’s ready for little more than another year at the Academy.

Is that a message you’re willing to spend nine bucks to hear?

AUDIENCE:  Teens and up

CAUTIONS:

  • Language/Profanity:  Multiple profanities. The Lord’s name is taken in vain. An upperclassman uses racially derogatory language.
  • Drugs/Alcohol:  A few scenes take place in a bar, where drinking and flirting are abundant.
  • Sex/Nudity:  None, but Huard’s banter with a woman at a bar is very suggestive. Later, they kiss. Plebes ask if other students are “looking at porn” on their computers. Plebes joke about sex.
  • Violence:  Military training is very physical. Plebes are verbally harassed. A plebe attempts suicide. A plebe attacks an officer. Boxing scenes are brutal.