The Reliable Source

By Amy Argetsinger and Roxanne Roberts
Sunday, January 29, 2006

"This is going to be painful," James Webb is saying as the theater lights go down.

That's why we invited you, we're thinking.

The movie is "Annapolis," a glossy Hollywood drama about the struggles of midshipmen at the U.S. Naval Academy, climaxing in an epic boxing match known as the Brigade Boxing Championships.

Webb, an author and highly decorated Marine combat veteran, graduated from Annapolis in 1968 and oversaw it as the famously outspoken Navy secretary during the Ronald Reagan years. A boxer for eight years, he even fought against classmate Oliver North in the championships. But Webb also knows movies. He has a writing credit on "Rules of Engagement," starring Samuel L. Jackson , and is working on a film with Rob Reiner (while mulling a run against Virginia's U.S. Sen. George Allen ). Yet Webb's own academy story -- 1981's popular novel "A Sense of Honor" -- languished in development hell and has never made it to the screen.

Just the man to watch "Annapolis" with.

"You remember 'An Officer and a Gentleman'?" Webb whispers as the opening credits flash. "This sounds a lot like that, and my book."

The movie starts. A young riveter dreams of attending the academy. A Navy officer tracks him down in the shipyard: Last-minute opening , he says. Show up tomorrow. Yeah, right, like that would happen! We glance at Webb, who is placidly watching the screen.

14 minutes in: A regal yet steely-eyed company commander stalks onto the screen. We know immediately he will push our hero to the brink. Webb snorts: "Enter Lou Gossett !" The plebes are abused. A fat kid struggles through an obstacle course. Our hero gives an incorrect answer, and dinner is withheld from his entire company as punishment.

35 minutes: First boxing scene. Our hero throws an impulsive wild punch. Webb perks up. "Ever read 'Fields of Fire' [his acclaimed Vietnam novel]? There's a scene in boot camp -- pugilistics instead of boxing -- that's very similar." He adds: "That's not a complaint."

43 minutes: The fat kid bids farewell to the hero before Christmas leave. "He's gonna kill himself!" we predict. Webb nods: "I was thinking that in the O-course scene."

47 minutes: The plebes return after leave. Fat kid still alive. Oh, well. More stuff happens. The girl midshipman says academy men don't consider women their equals. Plebes do push-ups in drenching rain. The girl punches the hero and they almost kiss. Boxing, boxing, boxing. A plot twist we predicted: "Ka-ching," says Webb.

100 minutes: The End.

"It's pretty good!" Webb exclaims. "Kind of hokey . . . but pretty good. They push all the buttons. You got 'Rocky,' you got the dad thing, you got the against-the-odds thing."

Huh. So, no major inaccuracies?

"They got everything wrong!" The uniforms, the training, the jargon, the way the mids were allowed to battle each other bloody in the boxing ring, the presence of a large shipyard in sight of the academy. But, says Webb, "it's a movie."

Huh. "Hey, did you know they mention you in the press kit?" we ask. Right here: On the list of famous Brigade boxing champions. Webb looks, and chuckles again.

"I never won the Brigades!"

Domingo's Celebration: A Reason to Get a Big Head

That giant disembodied head hanging outside the Kennedy Center? It's Placido Domingo , who celebrated his 65th birthday and 10th anniversary at the Washington National Opera this month. The maestro was feted Friday at the center with cake and the work by the French photographer Antoine Schneck . Maybe it's just us, but we swear the eyes are following us around the city.


Busy week for sharp-eyed Reliable Source readers, who were quick to point out lapses in punctuation, taste and literacy. Much fuss about Kanye West posing as Jesus on the Rolling Stone cover: "A spoiled brat with a smart mouth" or an artist making a statement?

J.J. Magner and other John D. MacDonald fans noted the predecessor of Bill Regardie's new truck: "Miss Agnes," a 1936 Rolls pickup driven by the fictional Travis McGee ("that knuckly, scartissued reject from a structured society"). And these smacks with rulers from the grammatically correct:

One reader writes: WOW!!!! St. Albans and Boston College must be wincing as they read what Luke Russert says in your column about his new upcoming sports gabfest with James Carville -- "Me and James are always at the Nationals and Wizards games . . . " I can't imagine ANYONE wanting to hear him no matter what he has to say.

Timonium, Md. : He is exactly what this country doesn't need, another half-wit radio commentator who cannot speak his native language. Most radio types have no idea about subject and verb agreement; the subjective is a foreign language; and no one has ever heard that the possessive precedes a gerund. I'll guess that I'll now go switch to decaf and cancel my XM subscription.

Washington, D.C.: Never mind Russert's grammar, how about your own editing? St. Albans does not have an apostrophe .

We can't speak for Luke Russert or James Carville . (Heck, we probably couldn't get a word in anyway!) We've marked our English test in red ink and vow to eliminate inappropriate apostrophes henceforth -- and use the subjunctive once in a while. Send your report cards to


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