In his effort to recall and contrast the enthusiastic optimism that surrounded the presidential campaign of RFK with the heartbreaking illusion-shattering reality of his assassination Estevez wisely bypasses conventional biopic storytelling or even conspiracy-minded cinematic razzle-dazzle of JFK. Instead he tells the tale from the ground level focusing on a large disparate cast of characters of differing social status – some interconnected some not – who’ve assembled at Los Angeles’ swank Ambassador Hotel on the fateful day in 1968 and as a group they’re both as troubled as that turbulent year and still each clinging to hope in their own individual ways. There’s the Dodger-loving busboy (Freddy Rodriguez) contending with a brooding racist kitchen boss (Christian Slater) and bolstered by an eloquent chef (Laurence Fishburne); the head of staff (William H. Macy) who’s sleeping with a comely switchboard girl (Heather Graham) while seemingly happily married to the hotel’s compassionate beauty salon operator (Sharon Stone); she in turn counsels both a young teen bride-to-be (Lindsay Lohan) marrying a friend (Elijah Wood) to protect him from service in Vietnam and the faded boozy lounge singer (Demi Moore) whose self-destructive cruelty alienates her subservient husband (Emilio Estevez); a veteran hotel manager (Anthony Hopkins) and his retiring crony (Harry Belafonte) reflect on their lifetime of experience while an idealistic Kennedy campaigner (Joshua Jackson) dispatches two volunteers (Shia LaBeoufand Brian Geraghty) to recruit last-minute voters but they head off on an acid trip with a high-minded hippie (Ashton Kutcher); the disconnected May-December couple (Martin Sheen and Helen Hunt) the black campaign volunteer (Nick Cannon) who’s already lost too many leaders; the crusading Czechoslovakian journalist (Lenka Janacek) scrambling for an interview with the candidate; and Kennedy himself appearing in news and archival footage the most eerily effective presence in the film. While such an A-list ensemble of actors initially seems like a director’s dream team they are also responsible for the biggest hurdle the film faces. While most films have a handful of stars and the luxury of time to help audiences forget their celebrity status and embrace them as the characters they’re playing Bobby keeps shoehorning more and more famous faces into short scenes which makes it somewhat more difficult to shake the initial distraction of “Hey there’s so-and-so!” Some of skilled cast—particularly Hopkins Belafonte Macy Sheen Hunt Rodriguez and Fishburne—make the transition easier but with others who are known more as “stars” than actors (Moore Stone Lohan and Kutcher) it takes longer to adjust. And that’s not to say those performances are bad: Moore is terrific reminding us more of her innate watchability on screen than her well-preserved looks and much-younger husband; Stone is in top form despite her overly dowdy get-up; and Kutcher shows his skill with a slightly subtler form of comedy than he usually delivers. Lohan is only passable however trying too self-consciously to appear vulnerable. Still other performances are revelations: Cannon shows as-yet-unseen depth and fire Jackson displays a Clooney-esque self-assured poise and Estevez smartly underplays his role. Understatement definitely seems to be Estevez’s watchword. He typically eschews an overly flashy cinematic approach and simply allows his actors to bring the scenes to emotional life even as he takes great pains to get the period details just right. When he does bring his technical filmmaking savvy more obviously to the forefront primarily in the scenes that integrate real scenes of Kennedy into the story it’s especially potent. Indeed the first three-quarters of the film are well-shot well-acted vignettes that evoke an era but it’s the thoughtful and clever integration of RFK into the third act that unifies and ultimately gives each of the stories—and the film as a whole—genuine dramatic power. Ultimately Estevez uses Kennedy’s own words to deliver a solemn respectful eulogy for the man and a hopeful call to keep the man’s dreams alive.
No seriously. Annapolis follows Gentleman almost to the letter right down to our main character rebellious Jake (James Franco) who comes from the wrong side of the tracks (with a father who doesn’t support him) but gets into the Naval Academy anyway. There’s the steely senior upperclassman (Tyrese Gibson) who rides Jake mercilessly but can’t make Jake quit. They inevitably end up duking it out in a boxing ring. Or the chubby freshman or “plebe” (Vicellous Shannon) who is the pride of his family because he got into the Academy but will fail if he can make it through the obstacle course letting everyone who’s counting on him down. Oh and there’s also the beautiful girl (Jordana Brewster). She and Jake flirt in a bar she rejects him and then he finds out she’s an upperclassman at the Academy. Wait that’s Top Gun isn’t it? You sort of have to feel bad for Franco. He has all the makings of a movie star--dark brooding looks heavy-lidded eyes Marlon Brando intensity--but he just can’t quite find the right movie to launch him into stardom. He missed the mark with the medieval romance Tristan and Isolde--and now as the insurgent Jake he simply can’t outdo Gentleman’s Richard Gere. Neither can bad boy Tyrese (Four Brothers) trying to be a younger tougher version of Louis Gossett Jr.’s Oscar-winning hard ass. At any moment you expect Tyrese to yell “Oh you’ll DOR!” Instead the actor comes off ludicrously ill-fitted in his Navy whites. The rest of the cast too have a tough time making us believe they belong in the movie. Please you think someone like Brewster (The Fast and the Furious) is going to be in the Naval Academy and know how to box? Highly unlikely. Wonder which genius exec over at Disney had the brilliant idea to greenlight this derivative mess? The impetus for making Annapolis was probably to give audiences a glimpse at the prestigious U.S. Naval Academy and how hard it is to make it through. Not a bad idea on paper at least. But it’s obvious screenwriter Dave Collard watched An Officer and a Gentleman several hundred times sat down and wrote his cheesy heart out but forgot to add any of the steamy sex. Then to add insult to injury they hire director Justin Lin(Better Luck Tomorrow) a relative novice who tries his best to keep up appearances that he knows what he’s doing but doesn’t really have any of the necessary experience to make the film better. Annapolis is simply doomed to fail.