If 21 Jump Street had incessantly lectured viewers on the value of education while piling on dismal racial, ethnic, and socio-economic jokes, it would have looked eerily similar to Underclassman, a doltish vehicle for Nick Cannon (Drumline) about a bike cop sent undercover at a swank L.A. private school to investigate a murder. Cannon’s Tracy is a streetwise cop who, despite being on the force for four years, looks to be about 15, a fact which makes him the ideal candidate to infiltrate The Westbury School and check up on its student body of spoiled trust-fund teenagers, one of whom (Shawn Ashmore’s entitled Aryan Rob Donovan) may have been mixed up in the crime.
Since Cannon desperately mimics Chris Tucker’s preening, strutting, motormouth wisecracking at every turn, it’s no surprise to find that Marcos Siega’s formulaic film is akin to an adolescent variation on Rush Hour, with jive-talking Tracy—whose decision to drop out before graduation and get a GED is dubbed “the easy way out”—forced to navigate a foreign land (the rich suburban halls of academia) with the help of a friendly Asian (Kelly Hu) while seducing a caliente Spanish teacher (Roselyn Sanchez, of Rush Hour 2 fame). Cannon’s showboating narcissism is so overwhelming and unjustified that every fish-out-of-water bit involving Tracy’s participation in “white” activities (paintball, jet skiing, rugby) immediately flunks out, though only screenwriters David Wagner and Brent Goldberg can be faulted for the preposterous depiction of wealthy WASPs as ghetto-tough streetballin’ superstars and Sanchez’s Ms. Lopez as a Hispanic variation on Mary Kay Letourneau.
As the undercover brother exposes a link between a drug ring and stolen car operation being orchestrated by one of Westbury’s most powerful people, Underclassman partakes in scatological stupidity (featuring Felicity‘s Ian Gomez squatting in a bush) and endless “light-skinned folks are crazy” bits in which wigger Alex (Johnny Lewis) flaunts an incompetent grasp of hip-hop vernacular (claiming someone has “angry skills” on the basketball court) and Tracy acts flummoxed by the word “soiree.” His eventual realization that the French-derived word is “Caucasian for party” may supposedly reflect a newfound appreciation for academia, but Siega’s hackneyed, by-the-books action-comedy deserves a dunce cap.