Friday, February 4, 2011

'A Low Down Dirty Shame' (released Nov. 23, 1994)

By DONALD PORTERStandard-Examiner staff

Sometimes filmmakers get it so right, even when they get it wrong.

That’s the case with “A Low Down Dirty Shame,” the new “Shaft” spoof by writer-director Keenen Ivory Wayans (“I’m Gonna Git You Sucka”). It’s a low-down dirty shame that such a talented man -- he created the irreverent Fox TV sketch-comedy series “In Living Color,” too -- has made such an awful mess.

“A Low Down Dirty Shame” is truth in advertising: Sexist, homophobic and derivative of so many better action films, “Low Down” is disappointing at the outset and goes downhill from there.

Wayans takes the structure of a conventional detective movie, then dresses it up in fancy, allegedly hip clothing. It doesn’t work.

Wayans stars as Andre Shame, a former cop who was tossed off the force in the wake of a botched drug bust. Now Shame works the streets of L.A. as a lowly private eye -- poor but honorable, at least in his own eyes.

Then an old cop friend, Rothmiller (Charles S. Dutton), walks back into his life. Vets of the same bust-gone-bad, Rothmiller was the hero of the piece -- landing a job with the federal government’s Drug Enforcement Agency -- while Shame was the goat. Rothmiller is now theorizing that the drug lord they believed to be dead is actually alive and living in Los Angeles, and to find him they must locate his, and Shame's, former girlfriend, Angela (Salli Richardson).

Wayans, who also wrote the script, has built into his plot the potential for action, buddy-bonding and romance. All that’s left is to find some comedy in the mix. But in doing so, the filmmaker resorts to silly, stereotypical portrayals of homosexuals, who Shame alternately ridicules and preserves from doom. He attempts to have it both ways: Insulting gays like a Real Man, while not enough of an ogre to look the other way when a gay man is in harm's way.

How enlightened.

Which is not to say that “Low Down” doesn’t have its moments, infrequent as they may be. After taking a good old-fashioned butt-whipping, a bruised and beaten Shame is greeted by his secretary with, “What happened to you?”

“I been partyin’ with Rodney King and Reginald Denny,” is Shame’s retort.

There’s not enough of that kind of social satire, which he pumped out week in and week out while in charge of “In Living Color.” Instead, he bows to the demands of the Hollywood action genre, which increasingly requires its directors to be outrageous above all else. Wayans seems to have watched plenty of films by John Woo -- the two-fisted gunplay and sliding down stairways on his back while firing are straight out of “A Better Tomorrow Part II” -- James Cameron and John McTiernan, but none of their technical expertise has rubbed off. The action lacks robustness and a sense of danger and grace that is the requisite of this kind of movie.

“A Low Down Dirty Shame,” indeed.

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