Back Shelf Beauties
by Willie Waffle

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Nick Cannon desperately wants to be Eddie Murphy, but doesn't have the script or depth to make it happen. Maybe he'll have more success with another movie in a few years.

In Underclassman, Cannon stars as Tracy Stokes - a bicycle cop who wants to be a detective, just like his deceased father. Of course, he is always getting himself in trouble with an overzealous, renegade, loose cannon-style and an inability to follow instructions from his boss, Captain Delgado (Cheech Marin). However, Stokes gets his big opportunity to show everyone what he can do when assigned to go undercover at an elite prep school to help solve a murder.

Can Stokes learn how to be a team player and help solve the crime? Who is the killer? What's going on at this elite school? Will he screw up the investigation?

Underclassman fails in so many ways that summer school for the director, writers and stars wouldn't be enough to help this Beverly Hills Cop wannabe graduate from dreadful to mediocre. First, Cannon is forcing everything. With a weak script from writers David Wagner and Brent Goldberg, our star is trying anything he can to evoke laughter from the audience, but Cannon comes off as desperate and erratic instead of smooth and cool. He never finds the movie's natural rhythm and often oversells his jokes in a performance long on attitude, but short on character development. Cannon does much better as Underclassman gets serious towards the end, but that part of his performance is for naught, since most audience members will give up by then. Before we start blaming Cannon for all of the movie's problems, it's only fair to name his accomplices in this crime.

Second, Director Marcos Siega would be better off filming music videos. He never misses an opportunity to include scantily clad women, and often has Cannon removing his shirt during chases, basketball games and more, even if it doesn't make sense to do so (at least he is into equal opportunity salaciousness for the men and women in the audience). Siega is more interested in showing off Cannon's biceps than bringing out his acting muscle, so Underclassman continues to disappoint in scene after scene. Our director never controls the tone, so we go from madcap cop movie to serious crime drama back to comedy again, which leaves the audience wondering if we should laugh or get scared as the action unfolds before us. However, Underclassman is so bad you might find yourself laughing at the dramatic moments and crying at the painful, unfunny comedy moments. The movie gets meaningful and serious much too late, which only adds to its incompetence.

Finally, Wagner and Goldberg must have watched a great number of NYPD Blue and Hill Street Blues episodes, along with every Lethal Weapon movie (even Lethal Weapon 4?!?!?), to include this many cop clichés into one film. We are presented with the tough as nails and bellowing boss, a renegade cop who needs to learn how to play with others and be part of the team, cops who only get shot in the shoulder, the young cop trying to live up to his father's legend, and much more. However, Wagner and Goldberg strive to be much worse than cliché as they include a vulgar discussion, complete with sound effects, about one detective's need to use the bathroom while on lookout and a creepy romantic tension between a teacher (Rosalyn Sanchez) and Stokes - who she thinks is a high school student. It felt extremely inappropriate, even if his character really is 23 years old, and makes a likable character into someone we should despise, like Mary Kaye Letourneau. I felt as if I needed a shower each time Stokes and the teacher started flirting.

Underclassman is a failure.

½ Waffle (Out Of 4)

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