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Rocky meets An Officer and a Gentleman in this utterly predictable story of an underdog overcoming long odds. Jake Huard is the underdog who grew up on the wrong side of the tracks—or on the wrong side of the river, in his case. His blue-collar neighborhood faces the U.S. Naval Academy from across the Severn River, a geographic distance of maybe a quarter mile but light years away socially and economically. Jake works as a welder at a nearby shipyard that produces warships for those future naval officers to command. But he had promised his now-deceased mom that he would one day attend the Academy. Through sheer, dogged persistence, he is finally accepted into the elite school.
Jake has trouble meeting the expectations for first-year midshipmen, called plebes, once he gets started, though. He can't keep up academically, and he has trouble adjusting to the rigorous discipline. Compounding his problems, he will neither give help to nor accept help from his fellow plebes. Cole, a tough-as-nails upperclassman who served in the Marines before attending the Academy, seizes on Jake's problems, determined to drive him from the program. Jake's only hope is the stubbornness of his classmates, his growing awareness that no man is an island—and boxing.
That's right: boxing. Jake has some talent for the sport, and if he can win the Academy's big competition, it might mean they'll hang on to him. He smashes his way through one opponent after another until he meets his ultimate nemesis in the championship bout: Cole.
Teamwork, courage, character and determination get big play in this story. Jake slowly comes to see that he will never make it through the Academy on his own strength. Credit his classmates with sticking by him even when he does his best to drive them away. Lesson learned, Jake then undertakes to help Nance pass his timed obstacle-course test. (If he fails by so much as a second, Nance will wash out.)
One plebe learns the hard way that the Academy is serious about its honor code ("I will not lie, cheat or steal or tolerate those who do") when his casual lie to a superior forces a fellow plebe to agonize over whether to report him, thus obeying the second half of the code. And while Cole is hard on Jake, it's never personal, and it's never spiteful; he genuinely cares about Jake, the Academy and the quality of officers it turns out. In the end, Cole is able to use his position as Jake's commanding officer to recommend mercy for the troubled plebe.
Jake, meanwhile, learns the lesson that it's far better to admit you don't know something than guess and pretend you're sure. Jake and Nance both come to realize how valuable second chances are. Viewers see how necessary it is for parents to encourage their kids.
Jake's friends play a joke on him by telling him a pretty woman in a bar is a prostitute they have "purchased" for him. Although she's not originally in on the prank, she gets over her initial shock when Jakes approaches her and ad-libs along, asking Jake if he's trying to lose his virginity. As Nance looks at pictures from home on his computer, two roommates ask if he's checking out porn.
A plebe keeps a photo of his girlfriend wearing a skimpy outfit inside his cap. This same plebe tells Jake, "Help is like sex. You take it when and from who you can get it." A plebe walks around his dorm room in his underwear. The shapely Ali's Navy uniforms are probably a bit too snug for Navy regulations. Ali and Jake cuddle and kiss. Women in a bar wear low-cut blouses.
This story revolves around boxing. We see frequent matches featuring crushing blows to the face and battering-ram attacks to the torso. We see also a few split lips and minor cuts to the face. One boxer lands a dirty blow to the back of his opponent's neck.
Jake attacks one of his superior officers. A plebe falls several feet off part of the obstacle course. Later, that same man attempts suicide by jumping out of his dorm room window. (We see his contorted body lying on the pavement.)
Crude or Profane Language
A plebe yells "m-----f-----" but is cut off in the middle. About half-a-dozen s-words. And other crudities such as "a--" and "h---" appear more than a dozen times. Several times characters use crude slang for male and female sexual organs, and one makes a sexual insult about oral sex. God's and Jesus' names are abused; four times God's name is combined with "d--n."
Drug and Alcohol Content
Scenes are set in a local bar with men and women downing beers and shots of hard liquor. Jake and his dad drink beer at home. Jake and his shipyard friends say they want to get "s---faced" at the local bar. People smoke cigarettes and cigars at a boxing match.
Other Negative Elements
It's indicated that some of the guys at the Academy place bets on the boxing matches. Rank doesn't matter inside the boxing ring, and it's one thing to compete hard, but we're meant to cheer as Jake uses the opportunity to pound a few superiors who, while tough on him outside the ring, are just doing their jobs.
The word preposterous came to mind several times as I watched Annapolis. The U.S. Navy must have been thinking the same thing when it refused to lend its support—despite the fact that at times the film feels more like a recruiting video than a major motion picture. Indeed, the final line before the credits comes from Cole, who says, "Come join me in the Marines." According to the Annapolis Capital, Academy spokesman Cmdr. Rod Gibbons commented on early scripts for the production, indicating that in order for the Navy to cooperate with the shooting, the film must "portray the Naval Academy realistically and how we develop our future officers." It doesn't. And that's why it ended up getting shot in Philadelphia.
While not obscenely insulting as was the recent Jarhead, Annapolis still enjoys punching up the implausibility factor. Plebes would never be allowed to visit a local bar, much less while wearing civvies. There is no blue-collar neighborhood or shipyard across the river from the Academy. A budding relationship between Ali and Jake comes very close to breaking Navy fraternization rules. (And why would a diminutive female midshipman have more boxing knowledge than the Academy's boxing coach?)
There are positive lessons and feel-good moments in this story. But you have to fight your way through a whole lot of canned nonsense and some dodgy language to rescue them.
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
James Franco as Jake Huard; Tyrese Gibson as Cole; Jordana Brewster as Ali; Roger Fan as Loo; Vicellous Reon Shannon as "Twins" Nance; McCaleb Burnett as Whitaker; Chi McBride as Coach McNally; Donnie Wahlberg as Lt. Cmdr. Burton