Eddie Murphy, your legacy is safe.
Sure, you’ve moved away from the fast-talking, smart-mouthed shtick that helped catapult you to stardom in ’80s movies like “48 Hours” and “Beverly Hills Cop,” and into warmer, fuzzier family fare.
Seeing young Nick Cannon feebly pilfer your act in “Underclassman” only makes us miss you more.
Certainly, it doesn’t help Cannon’s cause that the direction from Marcos Siega (“Pretty Persuasion”) is pedestrian, that the script from Brent Goldberg and David Wagner (the team behind “My Baby’s Daddy” and “The Girl Next Door”) consists of little more than tired racial jokes and fish-out-of-water gags.
But Cannon is no Murphy.
He sure is trying, though, starring as a rookie bike cop who goes undercover at a e. predominantly white Los Angeles private school to investigate a student’s murder. He’s so darn eager and likable (as he was in “Drumline”) that you want to give him an A for effort.
Then the script fails him with lines like, “Yo, yo, yo. Y’all need some color on the court,” as his character, Tre Stokes, tries to ingratiate himself with the Westbury School’s basketball team. When he’s handed an egg in health class and told to take care of it as if it were a baby, Tre cracks, “Can a brother get a brown egg?”
Cannon is too skinny and baby-faced to be a believable police officer, and hackneyed lines like, “This could be my shot,” only emphasize his youthful exuberance. But that does help him fool his classmates, as well as his inordinately hot Spanish teacher (Roselyn Sanchez), with whom he shamelessly flirts nonetheless.
We haven’t even gotten to the truly ridiculous part yet. While digging into the student’s death, Tre stumbles onto what he believes is a car-theft ring, led by the popular student body president, Rob Donovan (Shawn Ashmore, Iceman from the “X-Men” movies). Rob has a posse of generically stuck-up hangers-on (not unlike the Cobra Kai thugs who surrounded Billy Zabka in “The Karate Kid”) who appear to be his partners in crime. Drugs may also be involved, as evidenced by the kids’ involvement with several bad guys who skulk around dark alleys carrying backpacks.
Tre hopes to ensnare them by throwing a party (a teen-movie staple) where a classic convertible sits in the garage as bait. It belongs to his captain, played by Cheech Marin. He also gets help from a pair of detectives (Ian Gomez and Kelly Hu) who become mired in an embarrassing scene involving squatting in the bushes and using a magazine as toilet paper.
Tre explains that the best way to catch his suspects is at this soiree, a word he says is “Caucasian for party.”
Long before the movie’s anticlimactic climax — which features your standard car chase, shootout and exploding Porsche — it’s clear that “Underclassman” is lame in any language.