Review By: J.P. Mangalindan
Hollywood seems intent on transforming James Franco into the next matinee idol. This month, two Franco vehicles hit the big screen: the star-crossed lover-ish Tristan & Isolde and now, Annapolis, a naval academy tale that borrows the feel-good patriotic vibe of Top Gun and every other youngish military film out there.
In many ways, Annapolis’ tale is as cliché as they come: Franco plays Jake Huard, a disadvantaged kid without much direction in life, biding his time working for his father in the ship construction business. He’s also one of almost 50,000 young applicants for the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis. Each year, only 1,200 are accepted — and surprise, Jake is one of them. Unexpectedly, the boy from the wrong side of the tracks can’t believe his luck: his childhood dream has come true. But it’s not all smooth sailing. Nope. As a freshman “plebe,” the road to success is treacherous, paved with obstacles, hardships and surprises. For every person he befriends — the alluring Lt. Ali (Jordana Brewster) or the easygoing Twins (Vicellous Reon Shannon) — there’s someone like Midshipman Lt. Cole ready and willing to tear him down.
The competition heats up between Jake and Lt. Cole: Jake believes Lt. Cole is merely out to get him, but Lt. Cole sees something in our boy, a little somethin’ somethin’ that could make him a champ. The film climaxes with a heated final bout during the Navy Brigade Championships, a boxing competition, which, conveniently, is right down amateur boxer Jake’s alley. In many ways, the match stands for Jake’s hopes, dreams and future, a huge fuck-you to the hand he’s been dealt in the past.
If you’re director Justin Lin and looking for a handsome up-and-coming actor, you apparently choose Franco these days — and why not? The actor’s got some decent street cred: the short-lived, critically-acclaimed Freaks and Geeks and a Golden Globe for convincingly portraying 50s manboy icon James Dean. With his good looks, acting chops and likeability, Franco’s a natural choice. His believability is probably the best thing in this by-the-book military flick.
Oh, yeah. Did I mention he’s ripped?
God knows what he did to buff up, but if you salivated during the skin-baring scenes of Tristan & Isolde, you’ll convulse from apoplectic shock at the condition Franco’s in here. Sure, you don’t really buy that he’s as tall as Tyrese in most scenes (Franco’s been documented at being 5”7’ and Tyrese is well, taller than that), but that’s OK. Franco’s likeable enough that you’ll overlook the camera trickery.
But anyway, back to the film. As much success as Lin received for his lightweight film Better Luck Tomorrow — a