by Luke Baumgarten & r & Underclassman & r & Let's make something clear: I like Nick Cannon. And when a person is basically given the keys to a Miramax production -- Cannon is the star, executive producer, and story writer here -- I can certainly understand the temptation to gad about onscreen: riding ATVs and Sea-Doos (no "jet skis" here, these are Sea-Doo brand Sea-Doos), romancing Rush Hour 2 hottie Roselyn Sanchez, shooting endless scenes of rugby and paintball and basically making as little of a movie as possible. Underclassman was probably a gas to film. Watching it, on the other hand, is like sitting in after-school detention.
Cannon plays a smart-aleck LAPD bicycle cop, a rookie on the force. You will not be surprised to learn that he's always getting in over his head, that he's always aggravating his captain (Cheech Marin), that he's going to be asked at some point to hand in his badge and forget about the case, which of course he won't do because he's got a hunch that could blow this thing wide open and because the detectives properly assigned to the task are bumbling nimrods. An interracial-buddy element develops. A stuffy British guy might or might not be the villain. Five people -- counting Cannon -- collaborated on this story and the script, yet the movie seems to have been generated from a batch file. Here's the cutline: Cannon goes undercover with rich, white party kids at a prep school to catch a killer. Cannon is charming enough to float some edgy jokes at Biff and Muffy and the West Side Kids ("Y'all beat me so bad I thought I was going to have to call Al Sharpton, get him to organize a march," he quips after the rugby game), and maybe there's something to be said for that.
Perhaps years from now graduate students will defend Cannon's work here as a modern interpretation of trickster lore; maybe they'll call it subversive and brilliant. Until then, the movie feels a lot like Guess Who's Coming to the O.C. With a Lethal Weapon 2? except that Adam Brody has been replaced by Johnny K. Lewis (of MTV's Undressed), who has a Clay Aiken-y kind of thing going on. Its star, who injected such life into the surprisingly unformulaic Drumline, is adrift in a sea of cop-movie clich & eacute;s, and Marcos Siega's party-to-go direction hews more closely to his music-video beginnings than to his critically noted Pretty Persuasion.