During a three-week span in the fall of 1994, I was dumped by the same girl twice. After the first break-up, we kinda-sorta got back together. We went to see A Low Down Dirty Shame and, shortly thereafter, the second break-up occurred. Coincidence?
No f*****g way.
Now, this will come as a shock to those of you too young to remember, but there was a time when the Wayans surname was synonymous with cutting edge entertainment. FOX debuted the raucous sketch comedy In Living Color in 1990 and for a few years, Keenan Ivory Wayans was making money and winning Emmys.
Wayans walked away from the show in 1992 over numerous disputes with the network. I've often referred to the late '80s/early '90s as the entertainment industry's "Last Black Renaissance" and with its collapse, several African-American performers ended up overplaying their hand on vanity projects – relying heavily on loyalty from a
0:01 - Aaaaaand, we're off n' running with our first "Whatever Happened To" of the evening – the "walking off into the sunset" Caravan Pictures intro. I've always thought this music would be more appropriate to play over it.
0:01 - With the opening credits rolling, Shame (Wayans) flips through newspaper clippings of his accolades AND the failure that would kill his career as a police officer. Two things: (1) there's a shot of Shame looking at a picture of him posing with former Los Angeles mayor Tom Bradley. If there's another Negro that went from "nationally recognizable" to "anonymous" faster than the late Bradley, I'd like to meet him. (2) Who saves clippings of their highly-publicized f***-ups?
0:03 - Jada Pinkett – fresh off the extremely preachy last three seasons of A Different World - plays "Peaches", Shame's sassy (natch) sidekick. She's working undercover as a hotel housekeeper, which gives the film's writer/director (Wayans) a chance to drop in that urban comedy staple – the foul bowel movement. Never gets old, Black filmmakers…never gets old.
0:04 - Shame breaks up an illegal jewel ring. Guns blaze and a room full of bad guys can't hit one Black man hiding behind a wet bar. Meanwhile, I'm mesmerized by every villains' $59 double-breasted suit and Shame's dated Dionne Warwick/Psychic Friends Network reference. Warwick's wide nostrils got more comedic mileage than you might think.
0:09 - Shame escapes with the bad guys' loot by running across the tops of tables in the hotel's customer-filled restaurant – located somewhere between the hotel's second and 22nd floors. He then shoots out the window, blindly leaps from said window and crashes through the roof of his client's waiting limousine conveniently located a few miles below. An overtly armed Black man shooting with impunity in Los Angeles – less than two years after the riots – and he's not caught on ONE surveillance camera? I'll buy the lucky limo leap before I'll buy that.
0:13 - Charles S. Dutton is introduced as Shame's former partner on the police force who's graduated to DEA agent. Dutton and Wayans were Sunday night network neighbors for awhile as Dutton's Roc followed In Living Color. Dutton's delivery, demeanor and appearance have always reminded me a shaved Captain Caveman.
0:16 - Here is DEA Agent Rothmiller explaining to Shame how his archenemy has managed to elude capture: "What if he's NOT dead? What if he changed his face and laid low for a couple of years?" This theory is still only slightly more implausible than the last seven seasons of Law & Order: SVU.
0:19 - Sexual tension is teased between Shame and Peaches with the script actually calling for Shame to say "We're from two different worlds." Even with Pinkett ramping up the vamp factor to 10, she's acting rings around the wooden Wayans, who looks like the most uncomfortable person in this film.
0:21 - Two more Wayans favorites: a handicap riff and a Gary Coleman gag. The jokes were old in 1994. Even Rowdy Roddy Piper would appreciate it if Keenan could freshen up the references a bit.
0:26 - Shame's threatening "I'mma be wrecking sh*t like a 7.0" line might one of my favorite things about this awful, awful movie. Mrs. Bootleg turned to me with an incredulous look on her face and said, "I've heard you use that before." G*ddam right I have. And, I will again.
0:28 - A Rodney King/Reginald Denny reference. I won't even link to them. You have no idea who these people are and neither do I.
0:31 - During a discussion of who is the greatest heavyweight fighter of all time – Shame: "Tyson? Mike Tyson?! Mike Tyson can't even SPELL 'Muhammad Ali'." Peaches: "Wait a minute…Muhammad Ali can't even spell 'Muhammad Ali'. Can't lie, I laughed.
0:33 - Jeers for the insulting, offensive over-the-top gay caricature, but cheers for the silk scarf around Peaches' head while she sleeps. This is what Black women do, y'all and Mrs. Bootleg was pleased with what she called the "authenticity" – a word synonymous with new-age Blaxploitation flicks like this.
0:34 - References to Arsenio Hall and Arsenio Hall's butt. See, both were kinda big back in the day.
0:37 - A mailman with a stone-cold, Soul-Glo jheri curl hits on Peaches. This was obviously before the world learned that jheri curls kill.
0:38 - Another Wayans tradition: putting the family's less-talented siblings on camera at every opportunity. Keenan's Sasquatch sister, Kim, has a bit part here. Before this film, it had been more than ten years since Kim's last cinematic appearance.
0:41 - It's the slow-motion introduction of the film's femme fatale, Angela – played by Salli Richardson. She even closes her eyes and tosses her hair around for us. That's some subtle-ass cinematography, Mr. Director. And, like any respectable Black woman would, Mrs. Bootleg immediately attacks, sneering in the actress' direction: "She had a long career."
0:46 - And, with lines like "You made me break ALL my rules" (stilted emphasis hers) it's easy to see why Richardson came crawling back to television. Lela Rochon, Theresa Randle…what was it with the mid-1990s and attractive Black women who couldn't act?
0:56 - Shame gets all serious n' sh**. He shaves his head, grabs a pair of sunglasses (At night?! Outrageous!) and slips into his midnight-blue trench coat – a color that was only slightly less threatening than the most dangerous shade of the era: teal.
1:00 - Mendoza – the lead villain, played by Venezuelan-born Andrew Divoff – actually says "cock-a-roashes" in a threatening and non-ironic fashion. Sixty minutes in and this movie's managed to offend every ethnicity and sexual orientation. You're slippin', Keenan Ivory.
1:05 - It's the ubiquitous "shootout at the club" scene. The best parts occur before the bullets as we're treated to a "sex on the beach" double-entendre and this song playing in the background. Couldn't land the rights to "Here Comes the Hotstepper"?
1:13 - Wait…the DEA agent is working for Mendoza! He kills the three feds tasked with protecting Peaches and, after a short chase, the 300-pound turncoat catches the 90-pound Peaches. She's literally the size of his left leg, but she still can't outrun him.
1:18 - Shame and Angela are interrupted in bed by a taunting phone call from the bad guys. When Shame learns they have Peaches, he forcefully rejects the advances of the half-naked woman under the sheets that he was five seconds from having sex with. "I gotta save Peaches!" Again, I paid to see this fifteen years ago.
1:19 - Angela: "Promise me you'll smoke his ass." Shame: "Like a muthaf*ckin' pack of Kools."
1:27 - An earlier plot point pays off as Shame fends off an attack by a pack of frothing dogs…through the music of James Brown. If my insanely long review leads to any of you renting this movie, just fast-forward through the dog scene. Trust me. It's as preposterously superfluous as the "Jeopardy!" sequence in White Men Can't Jump.
1:29 - The turncoat DEA agent has the diabolical Angela at gunpoint. She takes off her top in an attempt to seduce him, but he's not picking up what she's throwing down. Angela then pulls a .22 from her bra strap and kills the DEA agent. Hovering over his corpse, she hisses, "Stupid muthaf*cka. You could've had some p***y."
1:32 - Finally…after all this (in both cinematic and lightly-read blog review form) it's the final showdown between Shame and Mendoza. Their fist fight lasts less than 30 seconds…and, it's over. He's…taken into custody? Sure, there's a predictable little twist and another blink-and-you-missed-it fistfight between two other characters, but…that's it?
In hindsight, I should've took that girl to see Junior.