- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 1, 2005

The cliche meter hits red less than 15 minutes into the new action caper “Underclassman.”

Yet to its core audience — teens and fans of Nick Cannon — the boilerplate bits will seem like this year’s model, not a junkyard Edsel.

Dude, what’s an Edsel?

The film clearly wants to bridge the gap between Mr. Cannon’s kiddie fame and a career as legitimate action star, but “Underclassman” is hardly the vehicle for such a shift.

Better leave it as a throwaway DVD rental or, preferably, the kind of pay cable offering that draws you in when a stack of chores is the alternative.

Mr. Cannon may only have himself to blame.

The quasi-charismatic star co-wrote and co-produced “Underclassman,” and at times it feels like the kind of ego-stroking project anyone might write if he or she wielded power in Hollywood.

His Tre Stokes is a dead shot, a master flirt and a b-baller who could out-razzle-dazzle a whole squad of Harlem Globetrotters.

We want our good guys to be skilled, not robotically perfect.

In reality, though, the brash young bike cop yearns to be a real detective like his father. (cop cliche 101)

The movie suggests that his father is dead, but Tre’s commanding officer Captain Delgado (Cheech Marin, who must have been high to take such a thankless role) promised the elder Stokes to look out for his son.

That’s not easy when Tre keeps overstepping his authority to make a name for himself. When a prep school murder case hits the precinct, Delgado puts Tre’s baby face to good use — assigning him to go undercover as a student to nab the killer.

The neophyte cop doesn’t gel right away. For starters, his ego won’t fit through most of the doorways in the school’s classrooms. When he realizes he isn’t a supercop, he begins cozying up to a popular student (Shawn Ashmore) who may or may not have ties to the killer.

“Underclassman” is smart enough to move at a rapid clip, giving us less time to consider the story’s inconsistencies and Tre’s empty posturing.

Young Mr. Cannon isn’t without appeal, but a tasty helping of humble pie should be a part of his diet.

Roselyn Sanchez plays his impossibly sultry Spanish teacher, and their mild romance seems jarring at first, given their apparent age difference or the fact that Tre acts like the high schooler he pretends to be. On second thought, though, the way she falls for his tired pimp lines may indicate they’re a match after all.

“Underclassman” dabbles in too much nasty business and potty mouthing to make it a lark for young viewers. Everyone else will want something more beyond the pedestrian action sequences.

*1/2

TITLE: “Underclassman”

RATING: PG-13 (Cop-style violence, sexual innuendo and coarse language)

CREDITS: Directed by Marcos Siega. Written by Brent Goldberg, David Wagner and Nick Cannon.

RUNNING TIME: 95 minutes

WEB SITE: www.miramax.com

/underclassman/

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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