Major Benson Winifred Payne (Damon Wayans) is being discharged from the U.S. Marine Corps. Payne is a killin' machine, but the wars of the world are no longer fought on the battlefield. A career Marine, he struggles with civilian life which results in an assault charge. However, his commander finds him a job that gets him back into the military: Commanding officer of Madison Preparatory Academy's JROTC program, consisting a bunch of ragtag losers and misfits with no hope. Using such teaching tools as live grenades and real bullets, Payne starts to instill the corps with some hope. But when Payne is recalled to fight in Bosnia, will he leave the recruits who have just started to believe in him, or will he find out that killin' ain't much of a livin'?
- Abusive Parents: Alex's step-dad.
- Badass: Major Payne.
- Be Careful What You Wish For: For the majority of the movie, the recruits have been trying to get rid Payne. Then, when they finally start respecting him, he gets called back to service. He comes back, though.
- Cut His Heart Out with a Spoon: Payne informs Alex why he shouldn't push his luck:
Payne: I will put my foot so far up your ass the water on my knee will quench your thirst!
- Drill Sergeant Nasty: The titular Major Payne.
- Fingore: In the beginning of the film, Payne dislocates his comrade's finger to get his mind off his bullet wound. He would've done the same to Tiger (who was afraid of getting a shot) had it not been for Miss Walburn.
- Exact Words: It's always important to note that when fighting a killin' machine, if he says he's going to kick you in the face, did he say when? One sucker punch to the throat and kick to the groin later. We then have this exchange:
Biker: You...you said you were gonna...hit me in the face.
Payne: You calling me a liar?! *boots him in the face*
- Gun Stripping: Major Payne enjoys hanging upside down, blindfolded and trying to clean his gun before his nose starts to bleed.
- Hello, Nurse!: Emily's first appearance is enough to reduce the usually composed Payne into a incorherent mess. With good reason. Did we mention she was a teacher too?
- Hey, It's That Guy!:
- The one and only Bam Bam Bigelow, mere months away from his Wrestlemania XI main event spot, shows up as a biker hired to intimidate Payne.
- The freckled and sickly Cadet Wuligar is played by Chris Owen, who is also known as "the Sherminator".
- Tiger is played by a young Orlando Brown, who's well known Disney Channel audience as Eddie in That's So Raven.
- Hot Teacher: Emily.
- I Gave My Word: When Payne makes a promise to kick you in the face or quit if you steal a trophy, he does intend to keep it. Subverted in that he doesn't intend to play fair in order to remain a man of his word.
- I Take Offence to That Last One: When arguing over the Major's treatment of Tiger:
Emily: And I call you an insecure, overbearing, psychopathic, edictorial, ego maniacal, frigid lunatic ASSHOLE!
Payne: I ain't frigid.
- Important Haircut: Whether the recruits like it or not.
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Major Payne shoots the "Boogeyman" in Tiger's closet.
- But more obviously and shiningly, when Payne steps up to deal with Alex's stepfather. The way he moves Alex behind him is probably the gentlest and most protective he's ever shown being with anyone.
- Large Ham: From start to finish, Damon Wayans is really something to behold in this movie.
Payne: KILLING IS MY BUSINESS, LADIES, AND BUS! INESS! IS! GOOOOOOD!!!
- Laxative Prank: The recruits try to do this with Payne's cupcake. It backfires. Literally.
- Metaphorgotten: Payne attempts to inspire Tiger with the story of "The Little Engine that Could". However the tale's moral is soon forgotten after the train is violently blinded and blown to bits with Payne taking bloody vengeance for an old war friend. Emily eventually has to stop him.
- Mildly Military: Major Payne is a former Marine, but he wears the "smokey" of a Marine Corps drill instructor with the gold cord from somewhere else. This is mildly military because officers don't wear the smokey and the cord doesn't belong there at all.
- Misery Builds Character: Payne did this deliberately to mold his students into a cohesive unit. The Guidance Councilor thinks this was an incredibly cynical plan.
- Names to Run Away From Really Fast: Major Payne
- Only Known by Their Nickname: Kevin "Tiger" Dunn
- OOC Is Serious Business: Payne's odd, nasally voice and elaborate, over-the-top insults where he is often in a borderline rage and uses (or at least threatens to use) violence quite freely is his standard, and acts like he couldn't care less about anyone. When he sees Alex's stepfather beating him, he grabs the man's wrist and says simply, "If you hit that boy again, I'm gonna do more than salute you." When the drunken man seems ready to fight back, he moves Alex protectively behind him, and actually refuses to hit the stepfather, simply deflecting and humiliating him until he walks away dejectedly. Apparently, Payne considers a parent hitting a child to be the only thing more serious than war.
- Pin-Pulling Teeth
- An important detail to note is that the grenade was apparently an anti-personnel/frag grenade, so it really shouldn't blast down a tree, just give it a LOT of little cuts.
- Ragtag Bunch of Misfits
- Real Men Wear Pink: The only non-military activity Payne enjoys is dancing.
- Shell-Shocked Veteran: After a fashion - Payne has a flashback (a common PTSD symptom) while telling Tiger a bedtime story. He'd really rather be back in the war though.
- This actually is one potential symptom of combat-related PTSD. Sufferers want to be back in combat because it's the only world they understand anymore... the structure and discipline of the military and the directed purpose of fighting is where they know how to function. Of course, this is a comedy movie, so the fact that Payne's actually a fairly textbook case of institutionalization and PTSD is probably unintentional and we should really just relax.
- Standard Pre-Ass-Kicking Snippet: "Bad to the Bone" is used in the opening credits.
- Wife-Basher Basher: When trying to get hired by the police force, Payne gets put in a training scenario to see how he'd handle a domestic dispute call, and he responds by smacking the actor in the scenario repeatedly until he passes out.