In a memorable Chapelle's Show sketch, Dave Chapelle's "son" raves about Nick Cannon to his frustrated father, having just lost a role to the young star of Drumline and Love Don't Cost a Thing. "Nick Cannon's hilarious," the kid gushes, provoking his already enraged father: "I'm glad you think he's so goddamn hilarious because he just walked off with your school clothes money... I'm broke nigga, I'm broke!"
Cannon has another starring role in Underclassman, and the younger Chappelle might want to think long and hard about where his allegiances lie. Cannon, who also served as an executive producer, stars as a baby-faced bike cop who goes undercover at a California prep school to investigate a student's murder. He soon discovers that there are a lot more shady happenings at the posh school and that learning is fun at any age. Of course, it helps immeasurably if the sultry Roselyn Sanchez is your Spanish teacher, but I digress.
The movie is wholly a vehicle for Cannon to strut his stuff. (He also gets story credit). That would be fantastic if Cannon had anything to flaunt, though he does have a smooth basketball game, as evidenced in the several scenes where the lanky actor shoots hoops. Where it counts, as a comedian, he sounds like he's channeling Chris Tucker from the first two Rush Hour movies. Considering how annoying that whole shtick became, that's not anything to be writing home about.
Underclassman isn't bad, it's just lazy. Cannon's barrage of one-liners sounds like Chris Rock's rejects from Lethal Weapon 4. The movie makes half-hearted stabs at establishing a rapport between Cannon and his boss (Cheech Marin, a welcome presence) and Sanchez, only to dabble in basketball games, jet ski races, and house parties with well-endowed extras.
For end-of-summer fun, Underclassman doesn't flunk, but it barely receives a passing grade. The good news is Cannon is still young (24), so there's plenty of time for him to find his own voice and find more original material. Maybe his new improv show on MTV, Wild N' Out, will serve as a springboard, because Underclassman won't cut it for the future. Otherwise, another line from Chappelle's show might become more relevant: "Who? Who's Nick Cannon?"