The term “rapper-turned-actor” has seen some highs but too many lows. The problem is infusing a talent from the music world into a film role worthy of their talents. Ice-T, Eminem and Queen Latifah are among the few who broke through and found roles that complimented their abilities. On the other hand, “Class Act” showcases how even an enjoyable, talented couple of hip hop artists can fail in a bad movie. The comedy/hip hop duo of Kid N’ Play hit a cinematic milestone with “House Party,” then struggled to find a vehicle worthy of their talents ever since.
“Class Act” begins with an opening credit sequence that wouldn’t be out of place for “Saved By The Bell.” The first thing we see is a fat guy hungrily munching down a sandwich. So much for subtlety or sensitivity. Christopher “Kid” Reid plays Duncan, a nice, upbeat and hopelessly dorky teen whose high test scores make his current year in high school especially promising. Then there’s Blade (played by Christopher “Play” Martin), a criminal and ladies man can barely stay out of jail. Due to an accident, involving Duncan slamming into a woman’s bosom (it’s that kind of movie, folks), his and Blade’s identities are reversed. Now, nerdy Duncan must learn how to be a tough guy, while Blade struggles to succeed among the smart kids.
Director Randall Miller’s attempt to mimic the unique tone of “House Party” backfires: while that film was also broad, it was stylish, offered moments of insight, social commentary and had a great performance by the late Robin Harris to ground it. In “Class Act,” everything is Capitol-Z Zany from the start but the tone is so unwaveringly aggressive, you wonder why they didn’t just make this a cartoon.
“The Prince and the Pauper” angle doesn’t go as far as it should. After a while, it seems Kid N’ Play are back to playing their former screen personas: themselves.
Jokes about someone bringing a gun to high school, Kid’s parent fearfully questioning his sexuality and a teacher aggressively hitting on Play haven’t aged well, to say the least.
Everything about this is so 90’s, you half expect Pauley Shore to show up…actually, he does. Shore’s initial appearance involves delivering a monologue so incoherent, I nearly turned on the subtitle button. He pops up later on and, in small doses, is every bit as annoying as co-star Doug E. Doug is at providing “comic relief.”
Kid’s emersion into the hip hop world involves putting his nerdiness aside, using slang and becoming a tougher, more streetwise teen. Is the movie about how Duncan is finding both his racial/social identity? Is anything in this meant to be taken remotely seriously? Probably not.
Inevitably, Kid N Play get on stage and perform an energetic rap number. While it makes no sense that their characters would have this ability (aside from the fact that they’re portrayed by Kid N Play), it’s what the movie has been building towards. The film’s fan base is appeased, clever (if obvious) rhymes are tossed out and it seems the movie is about to end. If only…
After the stage performance, which should have been the last scene, the movie gives us two additional conclusions: the first is a car chase that leads to a hide n’ seek in a wax museum. Despite appearances by a wax Batman, there are no laughs during this portion. Ditto climactic sequence number two, in which everyone appears on a game show. The similarly smug and obnoxious opening scene of “National Lampoon’s European Vacation” was better.
It finally, mercifully, ends with Kid N Play kidd N’ around, addressing the audience and offering a recap of the entire plot (!). The screen goes black and the end credits roll. What begins as a bouncy farce becomes an ordeal. There are enough moments here to satiate Kid N Play fans (I’m among them) but this is all too manufactured and formulaic to be anything more than a 1992 artifact. While not as bad as The Fat Boy’s “Disorderlies” or RUN DMC’s “Tougher Than Leather,” “Class Act” plays like a tired, unofficial sequel to “House Party II.” That’s clearly not a recommendation.