Shame, Shame, Shame

In the opening scene of A Low Down Dirty Shame, a maid rolls her cleaning cart down a hallway of an upscale high-rise hotel. Opening a door before a response can be offered, she intrudes upon a fat guy sitting on the pot. She makes a face and says, "Can you spell Lysol?" The second room she bursts into reveals an attractive couple having sex, woman on top, of course, so that we can see her full breasts. The maid makes a different face, says, "Work him, girl!" then barks.

The third room is filled with well-dressed bad guys who insist she leave so that they can get back to their diamond heist. She won't budge, but her cart does: out of it emerges a gun-wielding private investigator who says, "You boys don't want to fuck with me. I just got fired from the Post Office." When it's time to go, the PI leaps behind the wet bar so a shootout can begin. Cut to the PI's assistant in a limo, trying to control the headstrong insurance executive who's hired them to retrieve the diamonds. "I told you he'd be right down here," she pipes. The PI accordingly crashes through the roof. The kicker? The PI's name is Shame; his assistant's is Peaches.

Keenen Ivory Wayans, who spoofed blaxploitation films in I'm Gonna Git You Sucka, tries in Shame to make a straightforward action comedy. He shouldn't have. The action is cliched, the comedy is groaning. The story doesn't make sense, and its antics aren't diverting enough for us not to mind. Occasionally, writer/director Wayans inserts satirical throwaways of the sort that made his television show, In Living Color, a hit, but he doesn't stick to his parodic strength. And as a leading man in an action comedy, Wayans is no Eddie Murphy.

The opening credit sequence has Shame (Wayans) burning newspaper clippings that reveal he was once a decorated policeman. Why he's burning them now -- he's been a private detective for years -- has less to do with the story than it does with Wayans not being able to figure out another way to work in some necessary exposition. In any case, Shame is down-and-out, but he's lucky enough to have beautiful, sassy Peaches (Jada Pinkett) work for him on credit. Wayans is lucky enough to have Pinkett act for him: snapping her fingers and swinging her hips, she's all comic posturing. Inverting the melodrama she brought to Jason's Lyric, Pinkett is the best thing in Shame.

Other than Pinkett, there's little to celebrate. The action rarely rises above screeching car crashes, head slams, nose bleeds and slow motion karate. There are poor imitations of Quentin Tarantino and John Woo everywhere. Even worse, in one scene, a car full of bad guys falls off a ledge and lands upright at a drive-thru burger joint, where a voice demands their order. The climax occurs at a shopping mall for no other reason than it provides a lot of glass to shatter.

As for Wayans' celebrated humor, most of it is tame here, and he brings things to a deadening halt when he incorporates it. The better moments -- such as some theater tickets advertising "Gary Coleman is Mr. Bojangles" -- are few and far between. The funniest bit, how attack dogs can be subdued by invoking James Brown, is undercut by being telegraphed in painfully obvious ways.

Wayans tries to play Shame as cool and objective, but comes across instead as lethargic and uninterested. And though Shame is broke, at a pivotal moment he dons an expensive wardrobe and drives a sports car that Hawk from Spenser For Hire would envy. This James Bond-type turnaround is amusing but unaccounted for. The final shame of Shame is that it's way too easy.

A Low Down Dirty Shame.
Directed by Keenen Ivory Wayans. With Keenen Ivory Wayans and Jada Pinkett.
Rated R.
108 minutes.


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