Should we pity poor James Franco? Here's an actor who has been pegged as the Next Big Thing for the past several years, but aside from the 'Spider-Man' series, he keeps getting stuck in lousy movies. 'Tristan + Isolde,' 'City By the Sea,' 'The Wicker man,' 'Flyboys'.... someone get this guy a new agent, and quick! Unfortunately, last Spring's 'Annapolis' failed to reverse Franco's losing streak. A standard coming-of-age drama, it tanked at the box office and has already been largely forgotten. Yet, ironically, it only serves to reinforce Franco's rising star status -- indeed, without his magnetism and likeability, 'Annapolis' probably wouldn't be anything at all.
Think 'Top Gun' meets 'An Officer and a Gentleman' meets 'Rocky' meets Every Military Movie Ever Made meets... oh, nevermind. Franco stars as Jake Huard, a going-nowhere type with a major chip on his shoulder. He's got a hard-ass, loser dad (Brian Goodman) who is not exactly encouraging of Jake's last gasp at a dream -- joining the elite Annapolis military training academy. But even though "50,000 apply and only 1,200 get in," Jake makes the cut. Suffering through a rigorous regime doled out by the demanding instructors, Jake excels at amateur boxing, and using the sport as a means to self-respect, challenges superior officer Cole (Tyrese Gibson) to a Navy boxing competition. Along the way, he will struggle with his own self-destructive demons while earning the love of the beautiful female cadet Ali (Jordana Brewster). How much do you wanna bet that Jake will win the championship and get the girl?
Truth be told, I kind of enjoyed 'Annapolis' in a guilty-pleasure sort of way. Admittedly, this really is not a good movie -- the script is so cliched you can hear every line of dialogue and contrived plot development creak under the weight of familiarity. Yet it also rather reassuring, the equivalent of cinematic comfort food -- it's like watching that old '80s teen movie you loved as a kid and saw a million times on cable, only with different actors. There is also something to the idea that every new generation needs its own 'An Officer and a Gentleman,' and even if 'Annapolis' can't come close to that film in terms of pure emotional uplift, it is hard to hate a coming-of-age tale as innocuous and earnest as this.
'Annapolis' also barely earns its stripes by virtue of its diverse cast. Franco suffers from the pretty boy syndrome, but he is an intense actor and admirably never condescends to the material, no matter how bad his lines. Gibson is also underrated -- he certainly shows an emotional range here that far outstrips his prior work in, say, '2 Fast 2 Furious' -- and he elevates Cole well above caricature. Brewster didn't leave much of a lasting impression on me, but supporting turns by Donnie Wahlberg as a sympathetic Lieutenant, Wilmer Calderon as a fellow cadet, and Goodman as Franco's dad are genuine and believable. Reality is not really a word that goes hand and hand with 'Annapolis,' but if you are just looking for a harmless Sunday afternoon time-waster you could certainly do worse.
Buena Vista presents 'Annapolis' in a 1.85:1 widescreen, 1080p/MPEG-2 video transfer presented on a BD-25 single-layer disc. But with only a couple of low-impact supplements, the disc is not overpacked, and the presentation is really quite good. This is also the first title I've reviewed using the PlayStation 3's built-in Blu-ray drive, so I guess 'Annapolis' earns a special place in my heart -- however sad a place that may be.
'Annapolis' is certainly a polished production and has a generally nice visual look to it. Interior scenes are a bit stylized, with deep blues, rich oranges and some steely grays to give it the appropriate "realistic" and grimy look, while exteriors are a bit brighter and more saturated. The transfer still retains a fairly natural and film-like look, and the source material is in great shape. Grain is thin at best, blacks are rock solid and contrast has pop but is not blown to bits. Depth is also pretty good, with some scenes boasting a nice three-dimensionality, though some of the more overcast and dour exteriors look a little flat. Interiors can also suffer from crushed blacks, limiting shadow delineation so fine details are sometimes lost in the murk. Compression artifacts and macroblocking are not a problem, however. All in all, a solid effort.
Getting the uncompressed PCM 5.1 surround treatment and encoded at 48 kHz/16-bit, 'Annapolis' sounds pretty good. Dynamic range is polished and clean -- clear highs and nice low bass, with dialogue always intelligible. Surround use is not bad -- dramatic scenes lack weight and atmosphere, but the fighting scenes really come alive with spiffy pans between all channels. In fact, the sound effects almost sound too pumped up, with all the body blows sounding nearly as fake as those cheesy karate movies you see on late-night TV. Also, while I liked the score by composer Brian Tyler (a relative newcomer to big-budget studio films and a name I'm not familiar with), the music seems too subdued in the mix for my taste. Even the aggressive rock songs used for many of the training montages recede oddly into the background. 'Annapolis' is undoubtedly a slick-sounding movie, but this soundtrack didn't totally blow me away.
'Annapolis' hit standard-def DVD without many bonus features, and just about all of them make it over to the Blu-ray release.
Buena Vista has dropped the 11-minute "Pledge Year" making-of featurette (no big loss, really), but we do get the audio commentary with director Justin Lin. Though I was not enamored with the movie, I must say this track was surprisingly engaging, if only because Lin's journey to Hollywood is quite fascinating. After garnering much attention with his import 'Better Luck Tomorrow,' Lin was courted heavily on these shores, but of course was not offered A-list material. So he is earnest about why he chose 'Annapolis' despite it being formulaic, mostly because it was a story about class differences. Lin's honesty is refreshing, and made me like the guy even if I hope he gets better scripts in the future. We also get the usual production anecdotes and plenty of cast back-patting, but that's okay -- if you're at all interested in 'Annapolis' or Lin, give this a listen.
The only remaining extra aside from various preview spots for other Buena Vista Blu-ray titles is a collection of seven Deleted Scenes running about 12 minutes. Like the commentary, these are a surprise -- they actually flesh out the characters a bit more, especially a platform dive scene that probably should have made the final cut. Lin, screenwriter Dave Collard and editor Fred Raskin also provide optional commentary for all of the scenes.
'Annapolis' is a highly derivative movie, ripping off 'Top Gun,' 'An Officer and a Gentleman' and every boxing movie ever made in equal measure. However, I sort of enjoyed it on a guilty pleasure level. This Blu-ray release is quite nice, with a very rich transfer, sharp soundtrack and a couple of bonus features of note. Still, because the movie was not a huge hit nor all that memorable, I'd say give this one a rent before you buy.