THE VIRGINIAN-PILOT Copyright (c) 1994, Landmark Communications, Inc. DATE: Thursday, December 1, 1994 TAG: 9411300047 SECTION: DAILY BREAK PAGE: E1 EDITION: FINAL TYPE: Movie Review SOURCE: BY MAL VINCENT, MOVIE CRITIC LENGTH: Medium: 60 lines
HE'S A GUY named Shame. Andre Shame.
Actually, he's Keenen Ivory Wayans, a guy we expect to be funny. Wayans scored when he created ``In Living Color,'' the teleseries that kept everyone laughing before its abrupt, and unwarranted, cancellation. He also was directly on the funnybone target in his 1989 comedy hit, ``I'm Gonna Git You Sucka,'' a spoof of black exploitation potboilers.'' We have every right to expect ``Low Down Dirty Shame,'' his new film, to also be hilarious. For moments at a time, it is.
``Low Down Dirty Shame,'' though, has sold out, just a bit, to the action genre. It's this serious, droll bent that keeps it from ultimately being the entertainment it might have been. Frankly, when it's funny, it's on target. When it tries to be an action flick, it's merely routine, bland and predictable.
Shame, an obvious close kin to Shaft, has been fired from the Los Angeles Police Department and is making a living with high-risk but low-paying private detective jobs. He gets back in the big league when a federal drug agent (Charles S. Dutton) hires him to track down a missing $20 million in drug money.
That's the plot - a simple thing that can be quickly forgotten. Wayans, who wrote as well as directed, clearly doesn't want to be a ``real'' hero. He plays Shame in an off-handed and frowning manner but, nonetheless, he clearly wants to be a clown. (He forgot that when you play it seriously, you also look serious. The audience can't be sure if he's joshing us or not.) He comes off as a mixture of Humphrey Bogart and Jerry Lewis - wavering from here to there.
He, and the film, are best when he cracks smarty and sassy. Perhaps the film's best sequence is the one in which we learn that snarly dogs will become tame if you sing them a James Brown song. As a writer, Wayans is no fool. He has two beautiful women cat-fighting over him. First, but not foremost, is Salli Richardson, a femme fatale who used to be Shame's girlfriend but is now shacking up with the evil drug lord with the luxury penthouse. She's the kind of woman who has climbed the ladder of success, wrong by wrong.
Stealing the film, though, is the sassy, witty and always loud Jada Pinkett, as Shame's faithful and ever flirty secretary. Pinkett is on a roll and reaches the top of the wave with this star-making part. She plays a soap opera fanatic, who looks daily at something called ``As the Heart Turns.'' ``Low Down Dirty Shame'' is entertaining most of the way - despite the sidetrips into violence. It would have been better if it had been merely a spoof of ``Shaft'' - not a hybrid. ILLUSTRATION: Color photo by Martin Smith-Rodden
Jada Pinkett and Keenen Ivory Wayans star in the comedy
Mal's rating: two and one-half stars