Despite what the movie's previews led viewers to believe, boxing assumes more importance in Annapolis than training to become a naval officer. Because I love to root for underdog fighters in films like Rocky and Cinderella Man, this came as a pleasant surprise to me. And it was easy to cheer on James Franco as a young man who must prove his worth -- to his own father, his friends and even to himself -- by participating in the Brigades, a boxing competition open to lowly plebes as well as to their commanding officers.
Why does Jake Huard (Franco) want to do well in the Brigades? He has good reasons. Naturally, he would like to make his doubting father (Brian Goodman), a man convinced his son won’t survive at Annapolis, proud of him. But he’s also gunning for one of his superior officers, Lt. Cole (Tyrese Gibson), a battle-seasoned Marine who doesn’t think Jake has what it takes to succeed in the military. Cole challenges Jake every chance he gets, and he’s also extremely tough on some of the other plebes.
Jake itches to meet Cole in the ring where he can punch him out with impunity. This is a dangerous goal not only because Cole knows how to box, but also because he’s much bigger than Jake. In order to qualify in Cole’s category, our hero must undergo rigorous training and put on more than a few extra pounds.
It’s a pleasure to watch Franco (The Great Raid) and Gibson (2 Fast 2 Furious), who definitely fit the roles of two very different men heading for a showdown, every time their characters square off against each other. Eyeball-to-eyeball or fist-to-flesh, they both give their all. Franco has come a long way since he signed on as Spiderman’s friend. Although he looks a bit puny at the beginning of Annapolis, his muscular development during the course of the film seems almost miraculous -- and his determined attitude builds as the story progresses. As for Gibson, by exuding such tremendous charisma and confidence, he practically takes over the screen whenever he appears.
During the course of his training and the Brigades competition, Jake undergoes emotional as well as physical growth. He finally learns to appreciate help from others (especially from a feisty female officer portrayed by lovely Jordana Brewster), and he begins to understand why Cole has demanded so much of him.
Thankfully, the boxing scenes come across as quite realistic here. One of the DVD bonus features explains why. It offers an in-depth look at the actors’ boxing training, the fight choreography and the camera techniques used in these impressive boxing sequences. However, it’s important not to watch this feature until you’ve seen the complete movie. Otherwise, some of the dramatic moments in these fights won’t seem as real to you.
Also included in the DVD bonus materials are: those obligatory deleted scenes (I heartedly approve their deletion!); a behind-the-scenes look at making the film; and audio commentary with director Justin Lin, writer Dave Collard, and editor Fred Raskin.
Its story may be a familiar one, but Annapolis moves along at an entertaining pace and features strong performances by Franco and Gibson. I recommend this movie highly for fans of these two fine actors and for moviegoers who enjoy boxing films.
(Released by Buena Vista Home Entertainment and rated “PG-13” for some violence, sexual content and language. Bonus material not rated.)