"Annapolis" is the kind of film that gives you a major sense of déjà vu. As you watch it, you can't help but think that the uniforms might be different, but you've seen it all before.
James Franco stars as Jake, a shipyard welder/riveter who gazes longingly across the river to where the Naval Academy haunts him like Gatsby's green light. He promised his dead mother that he'd go to the Academy, but Dad is less than supportive. A shipworker himself, he keeps reminding his son that he isn't suited to be anything different than the grunt he is, working on the ships that others will command. Substitute "coal miner" or "iron worker" for "shipbuilder" and any number of movies come to mind.
It gets better. Determined to get into the Academy despite mediocre grades and a lackluster resume, Jake plants himself on the doorstep of his Congressman and bugs the fellow until he finally gets Jake an appointment as a last-minute addition to this year's class of plebes. In a bar, Jake approaches a woman his friends goad him into thinking is a pro that they "got" him as a going away present. After a little come-on and a big misunderstanding, he turns up in camp the next day and learns she's one of his drill instructors. It's such a "Top Gun" moment that you can't help but think of Tom Cruise and Kelly McGillis doing the same thing, but better. As Ali, Jordana Brewster seems younger than the average recruit, which makes their budding romance easier to swallow than her barking out (make that "yipping") commands this guy and others are supposed to follow.
In "Annapolis," though, the focus is more on boxing than romance. Jake mixed it up in the ring while he was a union worker, and now he's itching to get into the ring with a tough drill instructor who's taken an instant dislike to him. The D.I. hates this kid so much that nobody wants to room with him, because he's poison. If Jake doesn't know an answer, the entire outfit gets punished. Only one fellow decides to stay his roommate: an overweight African-American named Nance whom the D.I. calls Twins (Vicellous Shannon). It's the relationship between these two guys and Jake's ambition to take on Cole (Tyrese Gibson) in the Brigades that drives the narrative. Jake tries to help Twins lose weight, while Twins pulls out all his junk-food stash to try to help Jake gain enough weight to make it into Cole's heavyweight class. But it doesn't pay to be the hero's buddy, not in "Top Gun," and not in any of the schoolboy romps that you'll recall as you watch this. After a year of training, Twins still can't complete the obstacle course in under five minutes, and Coles' inflexible attitude makes Jake even more determined to beat him in the ring.
So basically, we've got "Rocky" meets "Top Gun" and "A Separate Peace." But "Annapolis" is so by-the-numbers that you feel like not just the cast but you, the audience, is just going through the motions. When Dad shows up for the final boxing match the whole room is dripping with reconciliation. "Annapolis" is just an obvious film that relies on obvious dialogue and clichéd situations. If there was an original line or scene in this movie, I didn't see it.
Now, that makes me wonder why "Annapolis" was targeted for Blu-ray release. It wasn't exactly a blockbuster, but if there's any pattern emerging, it's that the studio gurus who decide what films to release in HD have decided that the people who have Blu-ray and HD-DVD players are into military and action movies. That might be true, for all I know, but I'd guess it was good military movies that they can't wait to watch in Blu-ray, not mediocre ones. And that's all "Annapolis" is.
The picture looks great in 1080p Hi Def (1.85:1 aspect ratio)--so good, in fact, that you wish the movie were better so you could really enjoy the Blu-ray experience. There's good color saturation, strong black levels, and all kinds of sharpness and detail that make HD so much easier on the eyes to watch than SD releases.
The English 5.1 uncompressed (48kHz, 16-bit) sound is also impressive. Though there isn't the rumble of jets that you get in "Top Gun," the dialogue and Foley effects are clear and bright as a "Yes Sir!" There's a nice serviceable bass and a treble that's plenty bright and tonally pure.
Director Justin Lin, writer Dave Collard, and Editor Fred Raskin conduct themselves well on the commentary track, but when the film people are discussing just isn't distinguished, it renders half of what they have to say as superfluous or ridiculous. No amount of background can camouflage the fact that "Annapolis" is a collage fashioned from a number of movies we've seen before. Also included are deleted scenes with optional commentary by Lin, Collard, and Raskin, and a Buena Vista feature that makes no sense to me: "Movie Showcase," which gives you "instant access to select movie scenes that showcase the ultimate in High Definition picture and sound." Come on, Disney. You can do better.
"Annapolis" isn't a bad movie, but it's certainly a derivative, run-of-the-mill one. The trouble is, when you recognize a scene from another movie, in every such instance, "Annapolis" suffers by comparison.