A consistently intelligent (or at least bright), coherently constructed comedy that is on occasion a rather pointed critique of the American education system in the…
"Underclassman" doesn't even try to be good. It knows that it doesn't have to be. It stars Nick Cannon, who has a popular MTV show, and it's a combo cop movie, romance, thriller and high school comedy. That makes the TV ads a slam dunk; they'll generate a Pavlovian response in viewers conditioned to react to their sales triggers (smartass young cop, basketball, sexy babes, fast cars, mockery of adults).
Cannon plays Tracy Stokes, a bike cop who screws up in the title sequence and is called on the carpet by his captain (Cheech Marin), who keeps a straight face while uttering exhausted cliches. ("You've got a long way to go before you're the detective your father was.") He gets a chance to redeem himself by working undercover at an exclusive L.A. prep school where a murder has been committed.
Turns out the murder is connected to a student car-theft ring, which is linked to drugs, which is an indictment of the rich students and their rich parents. It is a melancholy fact that a brilliant movie about high school criminals, Justin Lin's "Better Luck Tomorrow" (2002) got a fraction of the promotional support given to this lame formula film. If the teenagers going to "Underclassman" were to see "Better Luck Tomorrow," they'd have something to think about and talk about and be interested in. "Underclassman" is a dead zone that will bore them silly while distracting them with the illusion that a lot of stuff is happening.
Why couldn't the movie have at least tried to do something unexpected, like making Tracy a good student? It's on autopilot: It makes him into a phenomenal basketball player (so good, most of his shots are special effects) and has him telling a classmate over dinner: "In my old neighborhood, crabs were not something you eat." Another food joke: A popular white student (Shawn Ashmore) mentions Benedict Arnold. "He makes good eggs," Tracy says. If he knows about eggs benedict, he knows about crab cakes. But never mind. He also gets involved in a linguistic discussion of the difference between "up their a---s" and "on their a---s."