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The gist of Underclassman can be summed up with this early line: “You’ve got a long way to go before you become the detective your father was!” This time, the second-rate dick is played by the charismatic Nick Cannon, star of the entertaining Drumline and the tiresome Love Don’t Cost a Thing. Unfortunately, Underclassman is more like the latter. Cannon’s ambitious bike cop, Tracy Stokes, is mostly a watered-down version of Chris Tucker’s Rush Hour motormouth. Though his wisecrackin’ schtick is occasionally funny—mostly the one-liners launched toward a tubby co-worker, such as a phone conversation that opens with “You meant to call Domino’s, didn’t you?”—Van Wilder scripters David T. Wagner and Brent Goldberg (with a story assist by Cannon) apparently took the soundtrack’s “Let’s Get Retarded” to heart. Opening with a headache-inducing chase sequence, director Marcos Siega (of the recent and equally unlikable Pretty Persuasion) fills Underclassman’s remaining 90 minutes with a little plot and abundant padding. With clockwork regularity, basketball games, rugby games, and paintball games interrupt the actual story, which involves Stokes’ going undercover in an elite private high school, unbeknownst to the faculty or even the principal (Hugh Bonneville). The original reason for the job is to investigate a murder, though it soon becomes a case of drugs, stolen cars, and, most ridiculously, evil that goes higher up than the student body. Ultimately, it’s a whole lot of fightin’ and frontin’, with the school’s rich white students forever going gangsta on one another and taking an instant, unexplained dislike to “the new black guy.” Add in gratuitous explosions, a botched surveillance when a flatulent fellow cop’s “gotta drop a deuce” in the bushes, and increasingly incomprehensible developments, and you’ll be glad when Stokes’ ever-disappointed boss (a sleepwalking Cheech Marin) gives him the inevitable “It’s over.” Sadly, though Stokes’ career is ostensibly finished at that point, Underclassman still has a half-hour
to go. —Tricia Olszewski