by Eric D. Snider
Released: September 2, 2005
As fate would have it, I forgot to bring my Cop Movie Cliché bingo card to the "Underclassman" screening. It's a shame, because I know I'd have won.
Tracy Stokes (Nick Cannon) is a reckless, over-eager young bicycle cop in Los Angeles, where his blustery captain (SCORE) regards him as something of a loose cannon (SCORE), the sort of cop who gets the job done but who leaves destruction in his path (SCORE). Stokes' dad was a cop (SCORE), though, and he wants to honor the memory of the old man (BINGO!).
When a student at a snooty private school is killed, the cops borrow a page from "21 Jump Street" and enroll the baby-faced Stokes as a student so he can infiltrate the group of cool kids who may have been responsible. Stokes is urged to blend in and not draw attention to himself; however, he is 1) black in a mostly white school, and 2) a goof-off and a screw-up. (Cop in a disguise or undercover situation that would never fool anyone: SCORE.) He makes literally no effort whatsoever to blend in. The reason? This is a comedy, and making him a fish-out-of-water is "funnier" than having him do his job and fit in.
He gets a crush on his Spanish teacher (undercover cop falling for one of the people he's deceiving: SCORE), befriends the Big Man on Campus who might be involved in the killing, and thinks he's about to bust the case wide open when in fact he's just screwing up a Drug Enforcement Agency sting. (Local cop unwittingly blows "four months of deep-cover work!" by another agency: SCORE.)
But there IS something larger afoot here, involving a stolen-car ring and a drug deal and a few other standard procedural-drama plots, and darned if Stokes isn't going to solve it. Unfortunately, that blustery boss of his (played by Cheech Marin) tells him he's screwed up one too many times and takes him off the case (SCORE). Actually, he says he's firing him altogether, but then Stokes keeps hanging around the police station, so maybe he's only suspended. However it works, Stokes keeps working the case even though he was thrown off it. (BINGO!)
Everything works out OK in the end, of course. He gets the girl, the case is solved, and he even finishes that last semester of high school he needed to finally officially graduate! (I'm not making that up, either.) There are car chases (SCORE), cars that blow up at the slightest provocation (SCORE), a sequence where two men fistfight on a speeding motorboat (SCORE), and deployment of two of the oldest chestnuts in the box: When a character says, "If I get so much as a scratch on this car, my dad will kill me!," that means the car will be destroyed, probably via explosion (SCORE); and if a movie has only one character who speaks with a British accent, that character is always the bad guy (BINGO!).
Through it all, there is Nick Cannon cracking wise, always quick with a jokey one-liner no matter how dire the situation. This is the sort of action comedy that usually stars Chris Tucker or Martin Lawrence or somebody like that; I guess Cannon got it because they needed someone youthful and not on drugs. Cannon's a likable actor, and his skinny, unassuming charm goes a long way toward making "Underclassman" tolerable. But his efforts are hampered by an absolutely terrible script by David Wagner and Brent Goldberg (authors of the equally terrible "National Lampoon's Van Wilder" and "My Baby's Daddy"), who, apart from ticking off the clichés wherever possible, set up one desperate, unbelievable situation after another. Here's Stokes being forced to play rugby! Here's Stokes having an impromptu teen party at the captain's house! Here's Stokes' backup being delayed during a stakeout because he's taking a dump in the bushes! Huzzah!
They also do the thing that I noticed recently in "The Longest Yard" but that happens often in lame comedies. One of Stokes' fellow cops is chubby and bald. Why? So that Stokes can make lots of jokes about his weight and his hairline. This is cheating, of course: The only reason the poor guy has a big gut and a bald head is that the script called for it. The character exists only so the main character can abuse him. Where's the fun in seeing Don Rickles take an audience member apart if Rickles planted the guy in the audience in the first place?
Anyway, that's three bingos for me. I'm taking my winnings and going home.
Rated PG-13, a little mild profanity, some vulgarity, some mild violence
1 hr., 32 min.
Copyright © Eric D. Snider.
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