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Film review: 'Underclassman' gets low marks

It tries unsuccessfully to pass off star as next Eddie Murphy

UNDERCLASSMAN — * 1/2 — Nick Cannon, Cheech Marin, Shawn Ashmore; rated PG-13 (violence, drugs, profanity, vulgarity).

To paraphrase Lloyd Bentsen's now-infamous diss of fellow vice-presidential candidate Dan Quayle in 1988: We know Eddie Murphy. Nick Cannon, you're no Eddie Murphy.

That hasn't stopped either Cannon or the makers of the alleged comedy-thriller "Underclassman" from trying to pass him off as the next Murphy — to the point that they shamelessly rip off some of the bits from his "Beverly Hills Cop" and "48 Hrs."

Cannon's version of the motor-mouth cop routine is more reminiscent of Chris Tucker in the "Rush Hour" movies (though to be fair, it's not quite as irritating), and the film seems clueless about how stupid it really is.

Cannon stars as Tracy Stone, or Tre, a twentysomething bicycle cop who's tired of spinning his wheels, so to speak. He's been trying to convince his all-too-patient boss, Capt. Victor Delgado (Cheech Marin), that he's ready to try his hand at some "real" police work.

Tre is getting on Delgado's nerves. But the department is being pressured to investigate the murder of a private school student, so he sends the eager-beaver into the school undercover, as a student.

Tre quickly discovers evidence of drug running and car thefts, which he's hoping will be tied to a thuggish former student. Instead, there's reason to believe the ringleader may be his new friend, Rob Donovan (Shawn Ashmore, from the "X-Men" movies), the school's most popular student.

Like Murphy, Cannon has some appeal. But none of his wisecracks here are remotely funny. The only time the film garners any laughs is when it tries to be sincere (the dialogue is howlingly bad).

And much of the blame for this dud falls on director Marcos Siega — under his leadership, the effects crews can't even time an explosion correctly. Worse, he lets Cannon run wild and roughshod over more-talented co-stars like Marin, Ian Gomez and Kelly Hu (the latter two are wasted in humiliating supporting roles as Tre's fellow detectives).

"Underclassman" is rated PG-13 for strong action violence (fistfights, shootings, vehicular violence and explosive mayhem), drug content (references, as well as a drug deal), scattered use of strong profanity, and crude humor (suggestive talk, as well as gags about and references to bodily functions). Running time: 93 minutes.


E-mail: jeff@desnews.com