A story left untold

Posted: Jan 31, 2006 12:01 AM

I can just imagine how the pitch meeting for Annapolis went: “Remember Officer and a Gentlemen? Well, that was a good movie, right? And remember Rocky; that was a good movie too. So what we’ve done is combined them and added a splash of Top Gun. Audiences are going to love it!”

Apparently, studio execs at Disney agreed, since they green-lighted the film and recruited hunk du jour James Franco to play Jake Huard, a working class kid who spends his days working at a ship-yard and his nights dreaming of getting into the Naval Academy (come to think of it, what with Franco’s doe-eyes and a pouty welding scene, the film borrows a bit from Flashdance as well).

All the paint-by-numbers plot points are dutifully colored in: Jake’s family and friends expect him to fail (all except, of course, his dearly departed mother who always believed in him). He meets a cute girl in a bar who turns out to be his superior. His commanding officer rides him hard and gives him every reason to quit. His equally disadvantaged roommate encourages him to persevere. An opportunity then arises for Jake to return the favor. Eventually, Jake’s blue-collar father realizes he’s underestimated him, and his commanding officer grudgingly gives him the respect he deserves (in the form of a salute, natch).

Oh, and in the midst of it all, there’s some boxing.

Beyond this, there’s not much more that needs to be said of Annapolis—everything you see in the advertisement is exactly what you get in the film. And while it isn’t terrible beyond its clichés and predictability, it is a disappointing waste of talent and setting.

Despite his failure with vanity vehicles like Tristan and Isolde and (I’m predicting) Annapolis, James Franco has the potential to be a compelling romantic lead, but he needs to wait for good material.

He has shown he can act in both highbrow fare like City by the Sea and popular releases like the Spiderman franchise. Now he has to show he can be patient--building on his successful supporting roles until the right script comes along. If he can’t, he may well go they way of other promising young performers like Josh Hartnett and Wes Bentley who, after a couple bad choices, found themselves back in the minor leagues.

But even more than its actors, Annapolis squanders its subject.

Would-be officers face such intense competition to get into the Naval, Air Force, and Military Academies, and such pressure to achieve excellence on every front—academically, physically, ethically—once they do get in, the average Ivy-league experience couldn’t begin to compare with it.

What kind of kid does it take to first meet and then maintain these exacting standards? How often do they think about the upcoming service their country will require of them? How often do they consider the reality of what they are preparing for? These are fascinating questions—questions no major film has ever explored.

I’m sure more than a few blue-collar plebes are doing push-ups as we speak at West Point and I’m sure their stories are a lot more interesting, not to mention inspiring, than the fictional Jake Huard’s.

There’s a great movie to be made about the inner workings of America’s service academies and the kind of young men and women they produce. Too bad Annapolis isn’t interested in being a great movie.