Shame (Keenen Ivory Wayans) is a private detective now, but for a long while he used to be a police detective, that was until he was caught up in a corruption scandal that had terrible consequences, like deadly consequences, and he was discharged. He still hopes to be able to clear his name, but in the meantime he gets into scrapes as he retrieves stolen goods for his client, as he is today when he breaks into a hotel room to get back a cache of diamonds from some crooks. He has the assistance of his secretary Peaches (Jada Pinkett Smith) who he plucked from a life of crime on the streets to reform her, and soon enough the jewels are returned - amid a hail of bullets, granted. But then his old colleague Rothmiller (Charles S. Dutton) contacts him again…
Back in the seventies there was an outbreak in Hollywood of thrillers starring African-American actors, it was called Blaxploitation but it did not last until the end of the decade as tastes changed and the craze moved on. However, come the nineties and black performers who grew up watching those old movies wanted to demonstrate their prowess at the same kind of material, and a new movement was spawned, albeit one with a more political edge. Don't tell that to Wayans, though, as his comedies were not interested in raising consciousness, they were here to make the black actors visible and entertaining in a comedy setting, which brought us to Shame, essentially his version of Shaft twenty years later.
Of course, there already was a new version of Shaft at the turn of the millennium, but some prefer this more lighthearted, though no less violent, tribute to the character, as it seemed more relevant to the time it was in, and the jokes were better. Not that everyone agreed, actually there was a significant number of audiences who were left unmoved by Wayans' efforts, and it was true it did not have the hit rate of the hilarious I'm Gonna Git You Sucka which he had made with many family members (and a few of them turned up here too, only not in large roles). The plot was nothing special, certainly, as with many thrillers of this era it was merely present to take the lead character from one action setpiece to another, but who watched for the plot, anyway?
To ensure we knew the culture Wayans hailed from, there were a selection of references in the script that acted as punchlines, even going to the extent of illustrating how singing James Brown to vicious dogs will placate them (not sure how that would work out in practice), but mostly relying on old standbys like Muhammad Ali, Gary Coleman or the sitcom Good Times (yes, more seventies callbacks). So that took care of the quips, though interestingly Shame unwittingly shared a bed with a flamboyant gay roommate of Peaches named Wayman, not that anything happened, it was just a joke at his expense; interesting because Wayman was played by then-rising star and drag act Corwin Hawkins, impossibly over the top and making an impression because it was his only film appearance as he died before its release, the film dedicated to him.
So that adds a little poignancy to what was largely a self-indulgent affair for Wayans to play out his hero fantasies, though he did that better than some performers who made vanity vehicles for themselves. He shared a nice rapport with Pinkett, who was a bundle of energy and plainly making a name for herself, with Peaches' rival for Shame's affections Angela essayed by Pam Grier-resembling Salli-Richardson Whitfield, underlining that Blaxploitation connection. The head bad guy was Mendoza, played by seasoned gangster actor Andrew Divoff, an example of the nearly but not quite tone of the piece: nearly but not quite as memorable as the works it paid tribute to, really, but that was good enough when the film would spring back into life just as you felt it flagging. If nothing else it was notable for the cops Shame apparently killed in his efforts to seek justice, unconventional at least, plus one ingenious gag with a bungee cord that stamped its nineties flavour on the proceedings while being genuinely funny. Not too shabby for the action fan, then. Music by Marcus Miller.