With its eyes closed and ears covered, Justin Lin's Annapolis takes place at a Naval Academy where war doesn't exist. (At least, not the one that's currently being waged.) In this way and others, it's basically a military-recruitment commercial: The Academy isn't a place where soldiers are manufactured for combat, it's a self-help facility where working-class mopes prove their worth to themselves and all the jerks who never believed in them. More specifically, the film is about a boxing competition called the Brigades, so the merciless drills and hard-knocks verbal dressings-down are more Rocky than Full Metal Jacketthey're incorporated into montage sequences about toughening up for the big fight. At a time when movies, even from Hollywood, are finally turning their eyes to conflicts abroad, Annapolis seems conspicuously myopic and reactionary in its denial of the world outside campus, though a movie this formulaic wouldn't pass muster during peacetime, either.
Doing his usual James Dean imitationwhich can be affecting or mannered depending on the circumstancesJames Franco gives an inexpressive turn as a working stiff who's always dreamed of leaving the shipyard for the Academy across the water. He gets his chance when a recruiter (Donnie Wahlberg) spots the hidden potential behind his mediocre grades and test scores, but as the "wait-lister" among his elite class, Franco fights an uphill battle. His deficiencies make him a prime target for commanding officer Tyrese Gibson, a tight-jawed military man who immediately singles Franco out as a weak link. Fortunately, Franco gets a chance to exact a little payback when he trains for the big Brigades boxing challenge and aims to upset Gibson for the heavyweight title.
Of course, this top gun has his own Kelly McGillis in the twiggy Jordana Brewster, whom Franco tries to pick up in a bar only to discover the next day that she's his superior. Though he doesn't serenade her with The Righteous Brothers, Annapolis bears more than a passing likeness to the Tom Cruise vehicle, except it's less willing to admit its essential vulgarity. Lin, who cut his teeth on the overrated Martin Scorsese knockoff Better Luck Tomorrow, plays the material as straight and four-cornered as a midshipman's bunk, but it has little gravity, since there's nothing at stake beyond a young man's pride. That may be enough to draw a few naïfs to the recruitment line, but in today's political climate, the film's lack of substance counts as an act of insubordination.