Sincere performances and some star charisma can’t save this movie from its derivative screenplay, a retread of every “callow youth learns what it means to be a man” service drama. This movie samples An Officer and a Gentleman and Top Gun the way Vanilla Ice sampled Bowie.
James Franco plays Jake Huard, a kid who has been putting rivets in battleships as he gazed across the water at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis. His friends and his father think that places like the Naval Academy are not for the likes of them. But at the last minute, despite grades and scores below the Academy’s standards, Jake is accepted. That night, his friends give him a big send off, and tell him the elegant-looking lady at the bar is a paid escort they have reserved for him. He politely tells her he is not interested but offers her a tour of the Academy. If you don’t think she’s going to show up the next day as someone who outranks him, you haven’t seen many movies.
And if you’re surprised that Jake’s future also includes a Benneton-ad range of racially diverse roommates, who also have a neatly assorted range of issues, one of which includes not being able to get over the climb-y thing on the obstacle course, and a tough superior officer who thinks Jakes doesn’t have what it takes, then you probably have never seen a movie of any kind.
But as long as you’re not looking for originality, this film is modestly enjoyable. Franco is nicely broodish, and Tyrese Gibson shows some star power as the superior officer who knows what it takes to be a successful leader. Chi McBride (Roll Bounce, The Terminal), Donnie Wahlberg (The Sixth Sense) and Vicellous Reon Shannon (The Hurricane) provide able support, and the movie’s predicability is offset by boxing scenes that are excitingly staged, with a sense of immediacy, and a slightly old-fashioned feeling — this is a film that takes kissing seriously.
Parents should know that the boxing and other fight scenes are intense and there are some scenes of peril and a suicide attempt. There are some sexual references, including a prank allegation that a woman is a paid escort, and characters use some strong and crude language.
Families who see this movie should talk about why Jake’s father had a hard time believing he could succeed at Annapolis. What made going to Annapolis so important to Jake? Why did he say that seeing where he came from made it possible for him to be there? They might want to find out about the real-life U.S. Naval Academy, as academically rigorous as it is physically demanding.
Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy An Officer and a Gentleman (for mature audiences).