Wayans' formula action film gets mixed comic results
A Low Down Dirty Shame
Written and directed by Keenen Ivory Wayans.
Starring Keenen Ivory Wayans, Charles S. Dutton, Jada Pinkett, and Salli Richardson.
Loews Fresh Pond.By J. Michael Andresen
Keenan Ivory Wayans' latest effort marks his personal foray from pure comedy into the action genre. A Low Down Dirty Shame is heavy on both and meets with mixed success. Wayans is clearly more comfortable writing comedy, and the movie actually has too many funny moments. Although comic relief is good during suspenseful scenes, Wayans goes too far, leading the viewer at times to wonder if the film is supposed to be a parody. The action scenes themselves don't smack of parody at all, giving the film an identity crisis of sorts: It's a comedy trapped in the body of an action film.
Wayans plays Andre Shame, an undercover cop expelled after a botched drug raid. Now he works as a private investigator taking dangerous and semi-legal jobs to eke out a living. Peaches (Jada Pinkett), his sidekick and secretary, sticks around only because she is infatuated with Shame. When Shame is hired by DEA agent Rothmiller (Charles S. Dutton) to track down $20 million in missing drug money, he discovers some things about Ernesto Mendoza (Andrew Divoff), the man he supposedly killed in the failed drug raid. He also meets up with a former flame: Angela Flowers (Salli Richardson) is a femme fatale whom Shame still adores, completing an interesting love triangle which is one of the better parts of the serious side of the film.
Creator of the Emmy-Award winning television series In Living Color and the feature film I'm Gonna Git You Sucka, Wayans is a brilliant comic writer, and this effort is no less hilarious. He puts words in Shame's mouth that keep the audience roaring. "Don't act like it's your first time," he says to the surprised looking-bad guy while sticking the barrel of his gun into the guy's mouth.
One particularly well-delivered one-liner kept the audience laughing for a full 60 seconds, obscuring several lines of ensuing dialogue. The comedy is a bit one-sided as only Shame gets the one-liners, but this doesn't detract from the film's effect. A Low Down Dirty Shame is entirely Wayans' production, but it isn't boastful. It's just very funny.
However, the uneasy mix of action and comedy detracts from the film. One potentially funny moment that has been hyped in ads for the film happens when Wayans keeps three attack dogs at bay by singing a James Brown tune at them. Earlier in the film Shame ridicules Peaches when she reads in a supermarket tabloid that Brown's music has a calming effect on canines. Up to this point, the tension has been building in classic action style, and the James Brown was more distracting than funny. The film is full of scenes like this give it the feel of a parody.
The action sequences don't feel like parody at all, though. The fights are serious (with the possible exception of the cat fight between Peaches and Angela near the end of the film) and don't shy away from the graphic violence that parodies de-emphasize. One scene, shot in slow motion, features some flying blood that would have made Doc Edgerton proud. If Wayans had been able to keep his comedy out of the action, the movie would have been much more coherent.
The film's treatment of women and gays is a minor but refreshing point. Both women leads are strong and independent, even if Peaches does enjoy soap operas a tad much. And while the two gay characters are stereotyped and rather eccentric (this is primarily a comedy, after all), they are treated with respect and no one seems to be uncomfortable with their orientation.
In the end, Wayans would be better off sticking with comedy, the genre that gave him his start.