In the nineties everyone was taking a shot at becoming an action star, even Keenan Ivory Wayans. At the time Wayans was known primarily for comedy, after directing the hilarious “I’m Gonna Git You Sucka!” and the (then) very popular sketch comedy show “In Living Color.” But oddly enough, Wayans began starring in action vehicles that were much more straight-faced and intent on pushing him as a gun toting good guy who could take down crime and make us laugh at the same time. In the end, he just feels like a pseudo-John Shaft. “A Low Down Dirty Shame” is a respectable effort, but one that’s woefully misguided, if only for the story’s inability to decide on a tone.
That’s likely because Wayans directs himself in to a movie where he seems to want to be taken seriously as a valid action hero, but also doesn’t want to lose his core audience of comedy fans in the process. So he seems to want to appeal to both factions, and never quite wins anyone over. It also doesn’t help that writers from “In Living Color” have their hands in the screenplay. Sometimes “A Low Down Dirty Shame” is a violent crime thriller, sometimes an urban neo-noir, and sometimes it’s a goofy action comedy. Wayans just isn’t convincing as a gun toting private investigator, no matter how clean cut he looks and how stern a grimace he forces when he’s confronting thugs.
And the love triangle he forces between himself, Jada Pinkett, and Salli Richardson feels very tacked on, and never quite as interesting as he thinks. The movie itself can never seem to decide on what kind of film it wants to be, so “A Low Down Dirty Shame” is painfully awkward to endure. One moment we learn a character is actually working for villain Mendoza (Andrew Divoff playing a convincing Latin baddie), and the next character Shame schemes to close a high priced boutique by fooling over enthusiastic store clerk Diane in to believing she’s won a radio sweepstakes. For all intents and purposes, the comedy mostly works with Wayans’ sharp timing supported by solid supporting players. The boutique gag is only funny because Wayans plays off of sister Kim Wayans, who plays snooty store clerk Diane.
There’s also a hilarious gag at a spa where Shame pretends to be the gay lover of his friend Peaches’ gay roommate, resulting in a humorous confrontation. There are also very good turns by the gorgeous Salli Richardson, and Andrew Divoff as the film’s resident villain. In either case, Wayans can be funny, but an action hero he is not. Wayans performs very little hand to hand combat as an action hero, since he never quite pulls off the physical stunts convincingly. So he mostly just spends much of the film shooting, running, and shooting some more, while slowing down every crucial shootout with quickly tiresome slow motion. “A Low Down Dirty Shame” is a really misguided and unpleasant vanity vehicle for Wayans that will likely disappoint comedy and action fans.