Tracy "Trey" Stokes is a twenty-three-year-old undercover cop, who, after his latest his escape lands him in hot water, must attend the wealthy private school Westbury Academy to investigate the death of a student. Trey immerses himself in the environment quite awkwardly, bringing looser, unrestricted elements of coolness to the school, while everyone around him operates with a sense of incorruptible seriousness. Trey befriends Rob Donovan (Shawn Ashmore), and begins to uncover more illegal actions on campus, this time involving stolen vehicles at parties. Now, Trey must rely on his street-smart ways and quick-witted senses to prove to his superior officer (Cheech Marin) he is indeed capable of handling tough, rugged crime sprees and doesn't become crushed under pressure.
Trey is played by Nick Cannon, the once wildly popular teen-star, famous for his many appearances on MTV shows, discography, among several other endeavors. Underclassman was the pitiful and lackluster attempt to continue Cannon's long-running success with the Television medium, and functions as one of those subpar star-vehicles we were used to watching in the nineties. Cannon isn't a contemptible screen-presence, but a manufactured one, spouting lingo we are supposed to perceive is cool because he says it in a time where formality is required.
Not to mention, he functions in a role that has been dominated by superior talent. Without even hesitating, Cannon's Trey brings to mind Axel Foley from Beverly Hills Cop and the young teenagers of the TV series 21 Jump Street. Between these two examples, it already brings to mind the more intriguing and thoughtful things that were done to the rebellious, undercover cop character than how it has been cut and pasted into a film erected more off of clichés and action set pieces than anything else. Admittedly, the opening sequence is fun to watch, showing an energetic Cannon attempt to stop a van of drug-dealers by chasing them through the beaches of Malibu on an all-terrain vehicle. This scene, as derivative as it is, is entertaining because of its clear direction and reason; it is photographed and illustrated clearly, thanks to director Marcos Siega, and doesn't feel gratuitous.
The remaining ninety-five minutes of Underclassman, however, feel much too gratuitous, stockpiled with clichés, emphasizing action and sloganeering over any reasonable character development, and monotonous all the more. Cannon may possess the ability to dazzle with his goofiness and his over-the-top actions, but, given such a mediocre script and a redundant, familiar plot line, has little to exercise within the confines of the writing. In addition, the personality is all in the action sequences, leaving the characters without a trait of identifiable humanity. Given the film's incredibly low gross and the poor critical reception, it just seems that nobody bought what Underclassman was selling and Nick Cannon, who proved to be immensely talented in his earlier picture Drumline, suffered as a result.
Starring: Nick Cannon, Shawn Ashmore, Roselyn Sánchez, Kelly Hu, Hugh Bonneville, and Cheech Marin. Directed by: Marcos Siega.