True to its hybrid billing as an action-comedy, this writer/director/star turn by “In Living Color” creator Keenen Ivory Wayans isn’t flat-out funny enough to completely work as a comedy and doesn’t pack enough action to thrive in that genre. Pic nevertheless has its moments and probably won’t dishonor itself as a holiday alternative in big urban markets, though crossover appeal figures to be limited.
In a sense Wayans has returned to his first feature, “I’m Gonna Git You Sucka ,” with a different attitude. Where that film was a clever if rather broad spoof of the black action movies of the ’70s, “A Low Down Dirty Shame” takes itself and its star far more seriously. That would be effective if Wayans were a more accomplished actor, but as is, the dramatic material largely falls flat and the best laughs come courtesy of Jada Pinkett in a brash, fun performance as the title character’s trash-talking, soap opera-obsessed assistant, Peaches. Loaded with cliches, the story features Wayans as Shame, a former L.A. cop trying to make it as a private eye after a case involving a Latin American drug lord (Andrew Divoff) and his entanglement with a beautiful woman (Salli Richardson) ended his career.
Shame is drawn back into those events by a former colleague (Charles S. Dutton) who’s now working for the DEA. The drug lord, thought dead, is still alive, and Shame hooks up again with his long-lost girlfriend, irking the possessive Peaches.
All of this ranks as by-the-numbers cop stuff, and plenty of holes have been shot through the script, such as how the down-on-his-luck shamus quickly transforms himself into an overdressed James Bond.
The not-quite-saving grace resides in a handful of genuinely funny moments and the appealing female leads. In terms of action, Wayans the director relies too much on slow-motion in shooting action scenes — a tiresome habit that undercuts the potential excitement of some sequences.
“Shame” also falls victim to certain comedic excesses, and as with “In Living Color’s””Men On …” sketch, its over-the-top portrayal of Peaches’ snap-queen roommate (the late Corwin Hawkins) isn’t likely to endear itself to the gay community.
Tall and physically imposing, Wayans has the presence to be an action star but, in keeping with his roots in standup and sketch comedy, seems to be more comfortable trying to generate laughs. While fellow “Living Color” alums Jim Carrey and Wayans’ brother, Damon, have established their feature credentials, Keenen appears to be in need of a more finely tuned vehicle.
Richardson oozes sex appeal as the femme fatale, while Dutton and Divoff are at best adequate villains. Pinkett, meanwhile, continues to impress with her versatility after more serious roles in “Menace II Society” and “Jason’s Lyric,” while Kim Wayans turns up in an amusing cameo.
Tech credits are otherwise OK, and the song score adds some spice to the film — particularly the title track, providing an energy that the production can’t sustain.