Nick Cannon, the 23 year-old actor-rapper-comic, is suddenly everywhere. While slowly gaining more notable roles in movies like Drumline and Shall We Dance, he’s been busy with his career doing stand-up, making music videos and moving into the film production arena. His idea for Underclassman was turned into a film by David T. Wagner & Brent Goldberg, the screenwriters of National Lampoon's Van Wilder. Cannon, who grew up in San Diego, serves as one of the movie’s executive producers and also plays the lead role of Tracy Stokes, a young “can’t-stay-out-of-trouble” teen who drops out of high school “but” becomes a cop.
Tracy’s dad was a cop who died, and his comrade -- now police Captain Victor Delgado (Cheech Marin) -- had promised his friend to look after Tracy. So, despite his non-graduation status, and the fact that he looks and acts like a comic or rapper rather that a beat cop packing a big pistol, Tracy finds himself in urban L.A. fighting street crime from his bicycle. Each one of his collars results in high-damage (especially after a street chase that leaves hurricane-type destruction in the streets) or unhappy prosecutors.
The captain gives Tracy one lecture after another and at one time washes his hands of the kid -- until Tracy reminds him of his promise to his dad. Tracy just happens to be in the right spot at the right time when another officer is in search of a young-looking cop to go undercover at a local preppy high school.
No sooner than the deal gets set up at the school, Tracy is prancing around campus scoping out the good kids, the bad ones, and the girls. His assignment is a serious one – to find out information about the murder of a high school investigative journalist. When Tracy suspects the very popular Rob Donovan (Shawn Ashmore) has something to do with the crime, he tries to befriend him. At first Rob and his friends are less than kind to Tracy. However, Rob and Tracy become friends after Rob realizes Tracy’s skills in sports will come in handy and that Tracy is actually the only one to bail him out of a jam.
It’s obvious Cannon strives to be a great comedian. Unfortunately, that desire overshadowed his ability to make this film the best it could be. Cannon is a good actor; he’s exceptionally funny and has a great sense of timing. But the clichéd script has plot holes, and for the most part, it’s unbelievable. Of course Cannon’s character should fall for a girl at the school, but his teacher?
Rosalyn Sanchez (Rush Hour 2) is beautiful and sweet in her role as Tracy’s Spanish teacher. However, when she returns Tracy’s interest, things plummet even further downhill. The film tries to cover too many genres: romance, action/adventure, detective and comedy. Still, I didn’t find myself hating the film. In fact, Cannon was so engaging and trying so hard to be so many things, I really wanted it to work. Toning down each one of these elements might have done the trick.
(Released by Miramax and rated “PG-13” for violence, sexual references, drug material and some teen drinking.)
Read Diana Saenger’s reviews of classic films at http://classicfilm.about.com.