Tracy Stokes (Nick Cannon) is a second-generation cop, stuck on a lousy bike patrol detail. When the murder of a high school investigative journalist requires an undercover assignment to find the killer, Tracy pesters his captain (Cheech Marin) for the chance to prove himself. Sent to an elite private school, Tracy hunts for clues as he befriends the students (including Shawn Ashmore, “X2”), soon blurring the line between friend and suspect as he gets closer to solving the case.
“Underclassman” isn’t a movie; it’s a visual and aural test on how much Nick Cannon a person can possibly endure before they explode. A vanity production (Cannon produces and gets a story credit), “Underclassman” serves no higher purpose other than to show off Cannon’s comedic skills, which is like watching amateur night at small town coffee shop. To the person who once told Cannon he was funny, I wish I could jump into my DeLorean, travel back in time, and enthusiastically administer some Irish kisses to this individual.
Starting with a flat-out rip-off of the “Beverly Hills Cop” truck chase opener, “Underclassman” pretty much admits at the outset that actual storytelling isn’t what the experience is supposed to be about. Loosely built around a cop vs. crime plot, the picture quickly dissolves into a series of Cannon’s one-liners and profoundly unsettling reliance on hack facial gestures. Cannon has a quip for everything, revealing that director Marco Siega (“Pretty Persuasion”) had no control over his film and simply allowed Cannon to steamroll his way through every scene. As proven in “Drumline” and “Love Don’t Cost a Thing,” Cannon is Eddie Murphy lite, trying frantically to emulate his idol, yet failing to possess even one similar attribute. “Underclassman” is like watching somebody’s kid brother make a film about how funny they are.
Also disconcerting is Cannon’s overwhelming need to point out his skin color in every scene. I kid you not, Cannon points out his African-American heritage whenever he can, I assume trying urgently to get the urban audience on his side. “Underclassman” is filled with this dreary material, including a nerdy Caucasian “wannabe thug” classmate of Tracy’s, and a portly cop, who (of course) is a slob, and in the film’s most insulting sequence, has trouble defecating in a bush. This is the material that “Underclassman” seems most proud of.
Cannon strokes himself further with the inclusion of a subplot that has Tracy flirting with his Spanish teacher (a wasted Roselyn Sanchez), who actually considers returning the affections. Only in the movies would there be a teacher who looks like Sanchez, and only in Hollywood would she consider throwing her life away for Nick Cannon.
Seiga and Cannon attempt to pay off the story by adding an insanely ludicrous plot twist, and completing the lobotomy on the audience by staging needless explosions for the finale in an effort to cover up the rest of the nonsense. I guess “Underclassman” is a good showcase for Cannon’s talents: now there’s actual proof that he doesn’t have any.Rating: D-