As I sat in the otherwise empty theater at the first showing of Underclassman, I found myself consumed with a series of nagging questions concerning the state of films, the mindset of the movie industry — and, the biggest question of all, why?
Why was this movie made?
Why does the movie industry continue to turn out junk like this when it’s a foregone conclusion that it will tank?
And why does anyone wonder why all that theaters have lacked for most of the summer was the occasional tumbleweed to complete the illusion of their being ghost towns?
Every poll has shown that the movie industry just isn’t putting out the movies that people want to see. As the National Association of Theater Owners (NATO) has blessedly pointed out, Hollywood’s argument fails — that the slump is all about high ticket prices, overpriced concessions, rude audiences filled with people who chatter away during the movies, and cell phones. Because all of these were factors last year, when life was sweet and everyone was posting huge profits, rather than cornering the market on red ink.
No, it all comes down to the movie industry churning out expensive stinkers, over-budgeted and over-hyped “blockbusters” so expensive and so burdened with advertising that they’d need to pull down $400 million just to break even — and then filling the gaps with stuff like this, which can be only of interest to the most loyal relatives of the filmmakers.
Last week’s assured box-office debacle, Undiscovered, tanked so badly (opening at number 20) that it didn’t make back the cost of the prints. The week before, we had another born-to-lose classic, Supercross. Both of these appear to have been predicated upon the studios swallowing their own hype — that Ashlee Simpson is a hot commodity with young people, and that motocross racing is the coming big thing.
And what of this newest now-you-see-it-soon-you-won’t exercise in mediocrity, Underclassman? It’s grounded in the fact that star (also co-scenarist and co-executive producer) Nick Cannon scored a modest hit in 2002 with Drumline. Of course, between then and now, he also made the forgettable disappointment Love Don’t Co$t a Thing, and was relegated to a supporting role in Shall We Dance?. The PR boys did get him featured on a Screenvision advert (those slide-shows that play before the movie that the industry is pleased to call “pre-show entertainment”) where it was claimed that he prepared himself for Drumline by sleeping with drumsticks taped to his hands (well, I’m prepared to believe it). With only this to work from, it seems incredible that anyone thought there was some long-felt want for another Nick Cannon movie. But someone did.
Cannon stars in this lamer-than-lame undercover-cop flick as an inept bike cop who wants to be a real detective, and gets his chance by masquerading as a 25-year-old high school student at a preppy LA academy where there may have been a murder. Despite the fact that he only talks in PG-13 “gangsta-speak,” no one seems to find his presence among the offspring of the super-rich in any way peculiar. I’ll cut some slack on the age thing not sticking out, but only because the bulk of the actors playing Cannon’s classmates are older than he is.
There’s a ridiculous plot about carjacking, drugs, murder, blackmail and corruption in high academic places. And there’s a ridiculous romance between Cannon and Spanish teacher Roselyn Sanchez (an actress of more apparent ability than her movies deserve who seems to be held back by her resemblance to Sandra Bullock). All of this is just an excuse to stage tepid action scenes, have Cannon spout dumb lines that are supposed to be funny, and convince audiences that he has the makings of an action star.
Better actors — Sanchez, Cheech Marin, Hugh Bonneville (what is he doing in this thing?), Kelly Hu, Shawn Ashmore — are relegated to thankless supporting turns in order to showcase Cannon’s presumed talents, resulting in a huge waste of time and film.
And will someone please tell Hollywood that cars “pimped-out” with hydraulics stopped being funny several years ago? Rated PG-13 for violence, sexual references, drug material and some teen drinking.
— reviewed by Ken Hanke