Every year around 50,000 young applicants fight for admittance into the revered U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis. Since only a mere 1,200 will make the cut, the remaining thousands will never wear the honorable uniforms or flaunt their military skills on the sea. One man, Jake Huard (James Franco), will have his dream realized when he is accepted into the respectable institution, leaving his gritty shipyard labor job behind. So what if he has mediocre grades and no qualified background experience? He looks good in his gear, and his knack for brooding makes him a prime candidate for the U.S. Navy. Check your brain at the door, folks: it is excess baggage that you won’t need during Annapolis.
As every other relentless Underdog story goes, Jake has a vision and a crew of naysayers trailing him around. Lieutenant Cole (played by an overly hammy Tyrese Gibson) tells him endlessly that he’s not good enough, to which Jake replies, “I’m not quitting” several times over. The other new kids include a strict rule-abider named Loo (Roger Fan), lady-loving Puerto Rican Estrada (Wilmer Calderon), and an obese sweetheart (Vicellous Reon Shannon) nicknamed “Twins” for obvious reasons. It won’t be long before Estrada is kicked out for lying about taking a shower, and additional Commanders Whitaker (McCaleb Burnett) and Burton (Donnie Wahlberg) join in the ‘let’s bully Jake’ game to help pass the time.
There is no reason why everyone singles Jake out as the doomed failure of the group, except that without that driving storyline, there isn’t a movie. Writer David Collard (Out Of Time) doesn’t seem to mind that his screenplay is riddled with convenient setups and completely unrealistic sidetracks. While “Twins” makes for one of the more interesting characters in the group, there is no way that someone of his weight would have been accepted into the Academy, let alone make it past round one. It simply offers an opportunity for Whitaker to humiliate him with cracks about his weight, and to show a large stash of Snickers bars he hides in the room. Perhaps turning the one soulful character into a walking fat joke punch line isn’t the wisest journey towards comic relief.
The romance between Jake and Ali (Jordana Brewster) is botched from the start, because it reeks of calculated Hollywood casting. Sticking two good looking people in a movie together does not always provide a fireworks show, and Annapolis offers die-hard proof. When they gaze into each other’s eyes, it seems likely they are only trying to witness their own reflections. Their first meeting is at a bar, the night before Jake goes away to the Academy, and his friends dupe him into believing that Ali is an escort. Naturally, he makes a fool of himself, but the next day at the Academy, she magically appears as his military superior. How’s that for a small world?
The movie is so ridiculous that it’s hard to imagine anyone taking it seriously. Besides heavily biting off superior projects like An Officer and a Gentleman or Full Metal Jacket, somewhere down the road it also morphs into a clone of Rocky. It’s no longer about the Navy, but instead about Jake training to be a boxer in the Brigade Championship, where he and Cole will duke it out for the gold. Annapolis doesn’t have an authentic idea or coherent leg to stand upon, which will ultimately doom it to bargain bin purgatory. The bland cast offers their best efforts, but a paint-by-numbers plot cannot be saved by pretty crayons.