Annapolis (Justin Lin, 2006)
Before beginning this review of Justin Lin's Annapolis, I'd like to inform everyone that the DVD of Martin Scorcese's boxing pic Raging Bull (1980), or Robert Wise's boxing film noir The Set-Up (1949) is largely available to everyone, whether you are a lowly consumer or an up and coming Hollywood director. There's been a lot of boxing pics these past few years. There's Clint Eastwood's Academy Award winning Million Dollar Baby (2004), Ron Howard's Cinderella Man (2005), and Michael Mann's biopic Ali (2001). The quality ranges from abysmal to merely enjoyable, and my complaint is always the fact that these boxing pics' boxing scenes are never ever shot in its grittiest, most straightforward way to my enjoyment. The punches are usually accompanied by a large orchestral bang, and then followed with dramatic pussyfooting. Annapolis is even worse.
Jake Huard (James Franco) learned that he got accepted to the Naval Academy a day before classes start after being wait listed for a few weeks. Huard, a worker for a shipyard, has dreamed of entering the Academy and despite his lack of genius brain cells, he makes up for with determination and a do-or-die life philosophy. As expected, Huard has a hard time in the Academy and when given a chance to prove himself by participating in the Brigade, a boxing competition where students are given the opportunity beat up their officers in a bout, he grabs it. There goes the film tiptoeing itself into forgettable schmaltz.
Of course, it's not all about Huard as he has comrades. There's his chubby roommate nicknamed Twins (Vicellous Shannon) since he carries the weight of two men. There's also competitive Asian Loo (Roger Fan) who insists that one follow the rules as they are and spends no time learning the meaning of camaraderie. There's infinitely horny Estrada (Wilmer Calderon), a Puerto Rican who his officer orders to spend every night showering to remove what that racist officer calls, Puerto Rican stench. Huard also has a romantic interest, Ali (Jordana Brewster), one of his officers in the Academy who he first meets in a bar thinking she was an escort his friends paid for (you instantly know where this is going). Then there's the bad guys, the stern and heartless officers who'll make sure Huard's stay in the Academy isn't an easy one. The most prominent is Cole (Tyrese Gibson), the harsh officer who Huard will finally face in the Brigade finals.
It's a formulaic film and one can smell the stench of Hollywood emotional manipulation from the first frame. In an amateur boxing match, Huard is helped by Brian Tyler's musical score and Phil Abraham's glossy cinematography to stand up from being knocked out by a mean-looking opponent. As expected, Huard wins and not only that, he also looks at the audience to make sure that everyone knows he won primarily because he has the will and the determination to win, ahhhh, Hollywood magic, how I hate thy manipulations. The film moves on in the same manner. Huard gets defeated, stands up to redeem himself, with the help of the music and the cinematography and Lin's unembarrassed directing. It's schmaltz in its most criminal. Lin basically spoon feeds you as to what you ought to feel, and as to when your tear glands should start working, and as to who you should be rooting for. Yet in the end, it just doesn't work.