Underperforming Underclassman

by Marion M. Merritt on September 1, 2005

in Uncategorized

A likeable Nick Cannon executive produces himself through a Summer blah-buster.

When Bob and Harvey Weinstein and their Miramax Films joined The Disney Studio family, there were gasps all around from independent film fans. Now that the companies have parted ways, with Disney owning the Miramax catalog (some 500 or more films) and the Weinstein brothers walking away with 100 million dollars (40 million less than ex-Mouse, ex-uber agent, Michael Ovitz ). With about 60 or so Miramax films in the can or in post-production, Disney has begun to dump this sometimes, un-Miramax-like product on to the screens and possibly an unsuspecting public, at a furious pace. This helps explain why the action/ comedy -light Underclassman is hitting your neighborhood Cineplex in September, instead of the height of the Summer action season.
Baby-faced (and Wayan brother look-a-like/ sound-a-like/mug-a-like), bike cop Tracy “Tre” Stokes (Nick Cannon, Drumline, Shall We Dance) can not and will not follow any of the LAPD’s rules of procedure in order to catch a criminal. His busts will no doubt wreck havoc on the force, the civil rights of the accused and innocent bystanders caught up in the chaos of this overzealous rookie.
Threats and admonishments from his father-figure, Captain Victor Delgado (Cheech Marin) goes on deaf ears. You see, Capt. Delgado worked with Tre’s deceased father, a great LAPD detective and promised to look after his boy.
Out to prove he can be an even better cop than his father, Tre accepts an undercover assignment at Westbury High, an exclusive, O.C. type of institution, to help bust up a car-theft ring and just maybe clear up a Westbury teen’s accidental death that may have been murder.
Through sheer force of will and his great athletic gifts, Tre is able to be cautiously accepted by the top tier of the school’s elite crowd, headed by cute Rob (Shawn Ashmore, X-Men 2), by helping the rich white boys win a round of the big basketball game against their arch rivals.
Tre is above his head in all his assigned classes, but, luckily, his honors Spanish teacher, Karen Lopez ( a very wooden, but gorgeous Roselyn Sanchez) is willing to spend extra time tutoring him.
Meanwhile, during each O.C., I mean Westbury High party, a bad ass ride is stolen. It takes Tre two parties to figure out who the crooks are, but, he just can’t follow procedure and blows the car-theft bust and is booted off the force by the Captain.
Not being an official member of the force does not stop Tre. With some sloppy detecting and too obvious clues, Tre solves a murder, breaks up the theft ring, busts some big bad drug dealers, helps his new friends in need and finds himself in a budding romance. Only after all of this good detecting and the breaking of many traffic and gun (and logic) laws, while technically a civilian, is Tre finally on the path of being as good of a cop as his father and making Capt. Delgado proud.


Nick Cannon is a very likeable comedian and the Disney/Miramax folks must have felt that they have the next Will Smith and had enough confidence in him and Underclassman to make him the executive producer. The natural charisma and charm of say, a young Eddie Murphy, is probably what is missing in his potential comedic superstar future. Cannon’s Tre can throw out amusing one-liners, but, so far he has demonstrated abilities that will take him as far as any Wayan brother or Chris Tucker. With more Cannon films slated for release in the next 18 months, maybe his game will show superstar improvement.
Director Marcos Siega’s television ( Veronica Mars ) and music video (Blink 182, 311) background shows. Any modern action film, by the nature of the genre, must have an exciting chase or two, be it car, plane, train or foot. Siega chose to film his climatic car chase, at night, balancing the speed and agility of a Porsche against the size of 18-wheelers and L.A. freeway traffic. Using the cover of darkness to hide flaws, we really never get to see the chase, only a series of quick-cuts, sparks and close calls. The sense of fear and danger is lost in the murk. You can’t expect Siega to re-create Popeye Doyle’s (The French Connection) or Frank Bullitt’s (Bullitt) classic car chases, but at least, let us see the chase and feel a sense of excitement and danger.
Johnny K. Lewis’s portrayal of Alexander, as the stale, stereotypical goofy white boy, wanna be, gets old fast. Rap, Hip-Hop and it’s attitude, vernacular and verbiage has now touched every spectrum of the young adult experience. It is hard to believe any male teen, no matter what the socio-economic scale, doesn’t know his Hip-Hop-speak, if he is going to use it. The delivery of such speak may be goofy and embarrassing, but that teen would at least know the meaning of the culture’s words.
With a few script changes, Underclassman could have been shown as any UPN or WB movie of the week or better yet, clean up the talk and light violence and Miramax could have given us the next generation of The After School Special.
Underclassman 2005
Miramax Films
Rated PG-13 For Violence, Sexual References
Directed By Marcos Siega
Starring Nick Cannon, Shawn Ashmore, Roselyn Sanchez, Cheech Marin, Johnny K. Lewis

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