LONG-DISTANCE FUNDS UNDER FIRE
by Paige Cessnun
State Treasury records indicate that the Advisory Commission on State Emergency Communications, known as 9-1-1, allegedly has failed to account for at least $100,000 of surcharge funds, said Mark Wilson, a former member of the state Poison Control Coordinating Committee.
Funding for the 9-1-1 commission, a regulatory agency that oversees emergency services in the state, and Poison Control comes from monthly surcharges that are imposed on all intrastate long-distance calls in Texas and are collected by phone companies like Southwestern Bell, AT&T and GTE.
The funds are then remitted monthly to the State Treasury, along with a surcharge remittance report, according to 9-1-1 Executive Director Mary Boyd. The 9-1-1 group also gets copies of the reports.
In 1993, the Poison Control Coordinating Committee was legislatively created as an advisory board to 9-1-1 and the Texas Department of Health to implement the new statewide poison control network that started on Sept. 1.
After several months of conflict between the Poison Control group and 9-1-1 over spending priorities for the new network, Wilson questioned the commission's surcharge-collection practices.
Wilson said the state Health Department ignored a letter of support written from the committee chairman and removed him from his position in August because he continued to aggressively pursue copies of the monthly surcharge remittance reports from this year, itemized by 9-1-1.
9-1-1 Commission Chairman Ron Harris denied the allegations and said the charges were a strategic move made by Wilson to get 9-1-1 to "back off" issues surrounding the funding of the new Poison Control network.
Ruth Stewart, chairwoman of the Texas Department of Health, which acts jointly to oversee Poison Control, said Wilson was not removed from his position for whistle-blowing, but because he was "destructive" to the goals of the PCCC.
Wilson said Boyd refused to turn over the records in May, claiming they were proprietary because they revealed phone-company revenue.
Boyd gave Wilson a financial report that listed Poison Control surcharges collected year-to-date (months January to April) and individual monthly totals of March and April.
On July 22, Boyd also filed a request with the Opinions Committee at the Attorney General's Office seeking a legal decision to determine whether the information is proprietary.
Wilson did, however, obtain the individual payment records from the treasury for the months of January through June. Wilson said there were no remittance reports from Southwestern Bell and GTE, but added there were four reports from GTE Cellular.
Wilson said he pursued the remainder of the records from 9-1-1 in the spring because the treasury was collecting substantially more surcharge money than 9-1-1 was accounting for in its financial reports.
According to Monthly Equalization Surcharge Remittance reports submitted to the treasury, AT&T alone paid $611,267 in PCCC surcharges from January to April. These records also report that the total PCCC surcharge collections from all remitting phone companies, excluding remittances from SWB and GTE, from January to April was $1,146,527.
Wilson speculated that the surcharges collected by SWB and GTE are mostly likely a substantial amount, and that it is significant that the treasury reports do not include surcharges from either of those companies.
He added that if the treasury reports had included surcharges from those companies, the discrepancy would be even more dramatic.
In contrast to the treasury remittance reports, the 9-1-1 financial report shows the total PCCC surcharges collected from all phone companies, including SWB and GTE remittances, from January to April was $527,539.
Wilson said the commission has never justified the discrepancy between the treasury and 9-1-1 reports. He added he would like to know where all the unaccounted money that people have paid in intrastate long-distance surcharges is.
In explaining the differences, Boyd attributed discrepancies to a "timing thing" and said comparing the treasury and 9-1-1 reports is not fair because phone companies do not remit surcharges to the treasury the same month they collect their revenue from intrastate long-distance customers. She said there is a 30- to 60-day delay between the time a phone company bills its customer and when phone companies remit those surcharges to the treasury.
Boyd said the 9-1-1 report is complete 30 days after the remittances are received by the treasury. Boyd said generally, the figures on the reports should be comparable if they are compared with two months between them.
Wilson said he was suspicious of how AT&T could remit around $600,000 in surcharges for the first four months of the year (as indicated in the treasury reports) when the 9-1-1 report claims just $527,539 from all the phone companies combined for that same period.
In addition, Wilson pointed to the treasury's AT&T April and May reports that show the "exact same" revenue.
"What are the chances that AT&T could have to the penny the exact same revenues two months in a row? Where's the money?" Wilson asked.
Boyd said the two consecutive months when AT&T reported the same revenue were an error and that AT&T submitted $8,005 in August to resolve the problem. She added that the commission has always aggressively pursued errors in remittances.
In contrast, records show that in a 1991 audit of 9-1-1's surcharge collection practices, the commission was urged to collect amounts due retroactively.
The auditor also red-flagged the exemption practices of Centel because among their list of exempt customers were Centel employees, newspapers and physicians. The review questioned "whether Centel remits precisely what it collects" from its customers.
The audit also said SWB may be applying the surcharge to interstate toll services in addition to intrastate calls, which is a violation. The audit said SWB bills were difficult to review because records were written in code and certain data were "deleted or erased."
In an audit released Oct. 27, Gilbert Mendoza of the State Auditor's Office said the commission needs to do a better job of monitoring the surcharges. The audit said the commission decided to discontinue the audits to determine how much was owed them. He said the process of making this decision was not documented and that there is no current formal process to audit the phone companies.
Boyd said it would have cost 9-1-1 nearly $200,000 to perform a second phase of an audit and that the commission decided it was too expensive.
Boyd said when there are concerns about particular reports, the company in question is called. Boyd said in more serious cases, the 9-1-1 staff gets assistance from the attorney general's office.
Harris said plans are under way to create an in-house auditing committee and to hire an in-house auditor. He added that phone company records should be proprietary because they could reveal trade secrets.
Boyd said Wilson should pursue the issue with the appropriate state agencies. She said the media should follow up on the allegations and that it sounded like an investigation is "long overdue." Stewart said it is a conflict of interest to have GTE and SWB representation on the 9-1-1 Commission as it does.
However, Dr. Wayne Snodgrass, chairman of the PCCC, said Wilson wrote most of the PCCC legislation and was in no way a hindrance to their efforts.
Harris, who was re-elected Collin County Judge, said legislation mandated that three of the commission positions be filled by phone companies. The Commission currently has representation by SWB and GTE.
Wilson accused the attorney general's office of foot-dragging the opinion process on the records. He said the AG's office wanted to cover up the surcharge issue because Attorney General Dan Morales was up for re-election.
Jay Aguilar, assistant to the Attorney General, said the 9-1-1 Commission should have filed its request for an opinion within 10 days of Wilson's request in May. Beverly McGaffey in the attorney general's office, informed each of the phone companies by letter Sept. 19 that they had 14 days to prove in writing why the reports should be exempt from public disclosure.
George Kraehe, legal assistant in the Opinions Committee, said in the second week of October that written justification from the phone companies was "absolutely required" for the records to be deemed proprietary and that none of the businesses had responded. Kraehe said he had begun drafting the response and that it would be ready in the next couple of days. As of Wednesday, the case was still under review.
Boyd said she doesn't care whether the documents are public and that she will do whatever the attorney general's office instructs her to do.
Three of the 9-1-1 Commissioners said in late October that they were eager to get results from the attorney general's investigation into the allegations.
On Oct. 31, Walt Tisdale, spokesman for the attorney general's office, denied there is an investigation. He said the allegations were reviewed, and that the case was forwarded to the State Auditor's Office because it was financially complex. He denied that the attorney general's office is deliberately delaying the opinion process and said the analysis of the records can "take a long time."
GOP BASKS IN VICTORY; ATTENTION TURNS TO '96
by James Geluso
The Republicans made history Tuesday by riding a wave of anti-incumbent sentiment to victory in nearly every political arena. Most significantly, the Republicans took control of both houses of the U.S. Congress for the first time in 44 years.
The victories Tuesday set the stage for a bumpy two-year ride to a 1996 presidential election that may hold more surprises than 1992.
Aside from the Democrats, the big losers this time around were money and the radical right wing of the Republican Party.
Republican leaders from U.S. Sens. Bob Dole and Phil Gramm to U.S. Rep. Newt Gingrich and even former President Bush acknowledged that the burden of the next two years falls on the Republicans. If the Republicans fail to carry through on their program, mostly contained in the "Contract with America" signed by most Republican candidates for the House, then the Democrats will be able to exploit the same resentment that drove them out this year.
<B>The House of Representatives<P>
In the House, Republicans had a net gain of more than 50 seats, giving them a slight majority over the Democrats. Minority Whip Newt Gingrich of Georgia will most likely be the next speaker of the House.
Many high-profile Democrats took a beating. House Speaker Tom Foley, D-Wash., who has been in the House for 30 years, lost his seat to challenger George Nethercutt.
Dan Rostenkowski, D-Ill., former chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, was surprised at being defeated after 18 terms. The powerful Chicago congressman was considered nearly unbeatable until polls revealed his weakness just a few weeks ago.
First-term Rep. Marjorie Margolies-Mezvinsky, D-Penn., lost her re-election bid. She had been elected from a suburban Philadelphia district that was heavily Republican, and hesitantly voted for Clinton's 1993 budget plan out of loyalty to the president. Predictably, that act of party loyalty turned out to be political suicide.
Houston businesses will have cause to celebrate even more than their friends around the country. With Republican control of the U.S. House, committee chairmanships will be reassigned, and Rep. Bill Archer, R-Houston, who ran unopposed in this election, will likely become chairman of the powerful Ways and Means Committee. Ways and Means is the committee in charge of tax policy, and industries with a local representative on that committee can count on benefits coming their way.
<B>The U.S. Senate<P>
Sen. Phil Gramm, R-Texas, who has headed the Republican effort to capture the Senate, confidently claimed victory for his efforts before 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, even as the first returns were trickling in from the East Coast.
In 35 Senate races, Republicans had to keep all 13 of their incumbents and defeat seven Democrats to gain their first majority since 1986. Although the post of majority leader will go to current minority leader Bob Dole, R-Kansas, Gramm's success will solidify his standing in the Republican hierarchy and allows him to confidently begin exploring the possibility of a presidential run in 1996.
Although Republican gains were significant, it really was much easier than it looked. In many of the seats picked up from Democrats, the incumbent was not running, so there was no powerful incumbent to overcome.
This happened in six states: Maine, Michigan, Ohio, Oklahoma, Arizona and Tennessee. Two of those seats had great symbolic significance: the Maine seat, which was occupied by retiring Democratic Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell, and the Tennessee seat, which was formerly held by Vice President Gore.
Together with the Texas seat vacated by Lloyd Bentsen last year, Republicans managed to claim a total of seven seats that were given up by Democrats in the past two years.
In the much-watched Virginia Senate race, incumbent Democrat Chuck Robb kept Oliver North out of the Senate. Although North was not considered vital to the Republican majority, his victory would have been a significant victory for the radical right.
Adding insult to injury, Alabama Senator Richard Shelby announced that he was jumping from the Democratic Party to the Republicans. Shelby's switch, which comes two years into his second term, brings the Republican Senate majority to 53.
In Michigan and Massachusetts, two rising Republican stars kept their seats. John Engler of Michigan and William Weld of Massachusetts had both caused controversy in their home states, but both were returned to their offices easily. Weld, a moderate in a party increasingly dominated by radicals, has been mentioned as a possible presidential candidate for 1996. His economic conservatism and social tolerance has earned him a small, but devoted following, especially among the young.
Although George W. Bush was able to win in Texas, his brother Jeb lost narrowly in Florida against incumbent Democrat Lawton Chiles. Some have suggested that the Bushes may be the next political dynasty, and George's win and Jeb's near-victory may indicate Bush will be an important name for quite some time.
Mario Cuomo, the three-term governor of New York and one of many Democrats to fail, was defeated by Republican George Pataki.
One great surprise came in Maine, where an independent candidate won the governorship. Angus King had lost his bid for the Republican nomination, but ran as an independent and defeated both the Democrat and Republican nominees in a tight finish.
Republicans and Democrats agree that the Republicans won this year, but it is the next two years that are crucial. If Republicans cannot overcome the gridlock that characterized government for the past two years, the Democrats may be able to use this to their advantage in 1996.
The Republican leadership, especially Dole and Gramm, is already stressing a spirit of cooperation between the Republican Congress and the Democratic administration. But both know that the next two years are crucial to show what a Republican Congress can do. If they don't produce results, the electorate is likely to take their slim majority away from them in 1996.
Speculation now focuses on the 1996 presidential campaign. Dole and Gramm are both known to be considering bids, as are Dan Quayle and William Bennett. Unfortunately, all of these are socially very right-leaning, and the radical right was not as welcome at the polls Tuesday as the moderate Republicans, as evidenced by the Virginia Senate and Maine gubernatorial races. Pressure has been mounting on Jack Kemp to try for the nomination, and William Weld has also been mentioned as a possible candidate. Unless the Republicans do very well in the next two years, these moderates will stand the best chance of defeating Bill Clinton.
Although the radical right has been steadily making gains for the past few years, and continued to do so Tuesday, they lost on the national stage. Their prize candidate, Oliver North, lost Republican votes to J. Marshall Coleman, losing the race despite spending over $20 million.
In Maine, the radical right's candidate won the Republican nomination for governor, but his opponent returned as an independent and won the race. Allen Quist, another favorite of the Religious Right, attempted to take the Republican nomination away from incumbent governor Arne Carlson in Minnesota, but lost a tight race in the primaries earlier. Here in Houston, radical rightist Gene Fontenot's big spending wasn't enough to defeat Ken Bentsen.
One unusual trend this year was that big spenders often lost. Oliver North spent over $20 million on his campaign, and lost. In Florida, a proposition on casino gambling was bitterly fought. The "Limited Casino" promoters spent over $17 million, but lost to the "No Casino" forces, who spent less than $1 million.
In Houston, Republican Gene Fontenot spent $3 million, three times more than Democrat Ken Bentsen, who eventually won the race. In California, Michael Huffington spent $27 million, only to lose to Dianne Feinstein, who spent only $10 million, a paltry sum for a Senate race in that huge state. Money and incumbency, traditionally assets, were both liabilities this year.
The next two years will be an interesting period. The Republicans have the potential to cause a major realignment of power from the executive branch to the legislative. The 1996 presidential race, which has really been under way since November of 1992, will begin to heat up, and the shape of the Republican Party well into the next century will be decided. The realignment taking place in the United States may finally match the changes that have been shaking the world for the past decade.
Pay attention. This could get interesting.
TOTE THAT BED, LIFT THAT DESK
Moving means sorting, packing, lifting, swearing, sweating, arguing, writhing and finally quitting
by Tawanta Feifer
I promise myself that I will never move in the middle of the semester again. I've been completely moved for one week, and I'm still living out of boxes and eating fast food. My weekends have been filled with trying to keep up with assignments, entertaining my children and unpacking and repairing my washer and dryer. I haven't even had time to assemble my bed.
It all started in September when I ignorantly thought I could move a little bit each weekend and use one Saturday to move all the major stuff. I was going to donate my sofa and chair, dishware and lots of clothes to a local charity so I wouldn't have that much left. So I thought.
The first two weekends, I used my father's truck to move what I called "silly stuff." You know, the kind of stuff you never think about until you have to move it: pictures, toys, books, small appliances and knick-knacks. I moved everything except what I estimated I would need for two weeks.
So I chilled for two weeks until it occurred to me that in one week, I would soon start my stage-managing duties. That would mean long rehearsals from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. every weeknight, with weekends filled with playing catch-up.
The first obstacle was finding a rental truck. I'd originally planned to hire a moving company, but because I still had not received my student loan check, I had no money to even pay attention. But that's another story.
Finding a rental truck on a Friday afternoon was harder than finding a black person in the studio audience of a Rush Limbaugh show. My only option was to ride two miles on my bicycle at the crack of dawn to a privately owned U-Haul to get first dibs on the last 14-foot moving truck. Fourteen feet was a little small for my needs, but I vowed to make everything fit. I swore to make only one trip. I had previously moved from Korea to Germany, then back to the United States. How hard could moving across town be?
Second obstacle: Finding an accomplice. Why were my relatives so conspicuously absent? Only the day before had an old friend called up asking to see me. I called him up and told him I only had a few large pieces to move. He gladly (can you believe it?) agreed to help me move. That should've tipped me off that this person had no experience in moving a house full of furniture. You know what they say about hindsight.
Shake hands and come out fighting. Ding! Ding!
Round one began with a jab to the help about manhandling the fragile mother-of-pearl wardrobe. Both contenders paced the ring trying to psych each other out as to how the large cabinet would be moved through the front door. The cabinet scraped through the bout with minor injuries.
Both contenders dodged many verbal upper-cuts and punches to the face in the battle for placement of the washer, dryer and mattresses on the truck and whether the four-poster brass bed should be completely disassembled or not.
The match was winding down and as the contenders waited for the count, a desk and a dresser with loaded drawers emerged.
"I don't know why you didn't pack the clothes," my opponent yelled.
"So I won't have to unpack them," I retorted.
"That desk'll never fit. You'll have to make another trip," my opponent chided.
"No, I won't. It'll fit," I insisted.
"I'm hungry," the challenger moaned.
"Don't you think I'm hungry? I'm hungry too, but I don't have all day to move this stuff," I said. We had been at this since 10 in the morning, and it was already 1 p.m.
So we squeezed the chest of drawers onto the truck when an entertainment center and papasan chair blew in out of nowhere.
"There's no way that'll fit," the challenger whined.
"It'll fit," I demanded. It did fit.
In a senseless effort of bravado, I lifted the papasan chair over my head.
"Snap!" went the vertebrae of my neck. I couldn't move my neck left or right. Ladies and gentlemen, the champ has been whiplashed and is no longer in fighting form.
"Let's just do this tomorrow," the new champ pleaded.
"I have to get it done today," I whimpered.
"You have a lotta shit," the assistant said.
Have you ever noticed that other people's belongings are "shit" while your own things are "stuff"?
"It's not shit, it's stuff. It's shit to you, but it's stuff to me, just like your stuff is shit to me and stuff to you," I quipped.
The new champ left in a huff after the "stuff" was unloaded at the new ring. He didn't even say good-bye.
My friend Joann, who had recently helped her sister move and had their own round of boxing, said moving is the true test of friendship. "It's a better indicator than a long car trip," she said.
A few days later, the phone rings.
"Hey, how come you don't call me," the voice on the phone said.
"Because I don't have anything to say. When I do, I will call you," I said.
"Oh, I see. You just used me for my body and then threw me away like a red-headed stepchild when you were through," the voice said.
"I sure did," I mused. Click.
Instead of condemning bad people to hellfire forever, God should condemn them to move from place to place forever.
MEN'S BASKETBALL TEAM PRE-VAILS
107-73 preseason victory displays offensive potential for the Cougars this year
by Daniel Scholl
Daily Cougar Staff
The Houston Cougar men's basketball team opened the 1994-95 preseason with something it didn't see much of last season offense.
Facing the Houston Flight, the Cougars started the game with 11 unanswered points on its way to a 107-73 victory in front of 720 spectators at Hofheinz Pavilion Wednesday night.
The first three minutes of the game set the stage for the rest of the night as the Flight did not find the bottom of the net until guard Michael Christian made a layup to make the score 11-2 with 17:10 to go in the half.
Cougar starters Tim Moore (forward) and Damon Jones (guard) combined for nine of those first 11 Cougar points. This also foretold the rest of the night.
Moore, last season's leading scorer for the team, led all scorers with 19 on the night. This was despite a sore groin and a bruised back, elbow and wrist, with only 20 minutes of playing time.
Jones was second on the team, tying for all scorers with 17. He played for a total of 27 minutes.
Jones is a freshman from Galveston's Ball High School. The 6-4, 175-pounder was an Honorable Mention All-American and District 23-5A's Most Valuable Player. He has also been a pleasant addition to the Cougars this preseason.
"He played well," head coach Alvin Brooks said. "He's been the biggest surprise, and he'll only get better.
"We knew he could shoot the three; I was surprised at his maturity handling the ball, and defensively, he's playing fairly well."
The Cougars had five players in double digits for total points, and freshman Galen Robinson had a double-double.
With his 23 minutes of play time, Robinson scored 12 points and grabbed 11 boards. His rebound total led both teams, and he also led both offensive and defensive categories with six and five, respectively.
Another highly recruited freshman, Robinson was one of the starting five tonight. Jones got the start Wednesday night as well.
But Robinson came to the Cougars as the high-profile recruit and had much of the audience's attention as he received a fair share of the applause during player introductions.
"For the most part, I thought he played well," Brooks said of his 6-8, 245-pounder from MacArthur High School. "The thing with Galen is the expectation level is high."
Brooks added that although he did lead the team in rebounds, he expects to see more play off the glass from Robinson.
For the rest of the team, Brooks said he was fairly happy with the way they played and that they are much farther along than last year's squad, which had the worst season in UH history, finishing 8-19.
"Not bad for our first time out there," Brooks said, appraising the whole game. "It's not bad to know that five new guys were on the floor at the same time.
"Obviously, we're better offensively than we were last year. Now we've got some guys off the bench who can score."
Last season, no one off the bench averaged more than seven points in a game. As a team, the Cougars only averaged 76.8 points a game, and their biggest offensive output was a 90-144 loss to Purdue. While Wednesday night's century-mark point total was not part of regular-season play, it smacks of good things to come for such a young squad.
"It's not like they're a bad team," Brooks said of the Flight. "And it's early in the year."
The Flight sported names like Ronnie Cavanaugh, a Texas Southern graduate, who played for the New York Knicks, and Rafael Carrasco, who was starting center for the Cougars last season.
Carrasco, who was asked on Tuesday to play with the Flight, played only nine minutes and scored only six points, but received a big round of applause from the Cougar faithful who remembered his name when he took the court with 7:33 to go in the first half.
Two minutes later, he hammered junior transfer Kenya Capers on a layup, but both teams were laughing.
The Cougars have one more exhibition game and open the regular season Nov. 25 against James Madison at Hofheinz.
THE WIN-STREAK'S OVER
Aggies give Cougar volleyball team first SWC loss this season as defense dominates
Cougar Sports Service
Say goodbye to the Houston Cougar volleyball team's adding to its school-record 17-match winning streak.
The Cougars (20-4 overall, 9-1 in the SWC) were defeated in four games by Southwest Conference rival Texas A&M in College Station Wednesday night.
Not only did the 15-10, 11-15, 15-8, 15-12 loss at A&M's G. Rollie White Coliseum stop the team's record victory streak, it also dashed the Cougars' hopes for their first undefeated SWC campaign.
The Lady Aggies' (13-11, 6-4) attack was paced by sophomore setter Suzy Wente and junior outside hitter Jennifer Bronner.
Wente led both teams with 61 assists, and Bronner also topped the stat sheet in kills with 21. The Aggies' other dangerous outside hitter, sophomore Dana Santleben, posted 15 kills, but more importantly, she had a game-high 20 digs.
Overall, Texas A&M out-killed the Cougars 75-52. But defense was the name of the game.
The Cougars had one of their worst hitting nights in recent memory. As a team, they only hit .119 for the match.
One of the reasons for the Cougars' low hitting percentage may be explained by the Aggies' huge advantage in team blocks. A&M out-blocked the hard-hitting Cougar squad 17-7.
Freshman middle blocker Page White was unstoppable at the net, registering eight block assists and two solo blocks on the night. Outside hitters Kristie Smedsrud and Cindy VanderWoude also had seven block assists for the Aggies.
In spite of the tenacious Aggie defense, Cougar senior hitter Lilly Denoon-Chester almost played up to her usual standard.
Denoon-Chester finished with 14 kills along with six digs, but she could not save a team that had not lost since Sept. 16 by herself.
Sophomore hitter Nashika Stokes was one of the Cougars who did not have her average night. The 5-8 Washington, D.C., native had one kill and three errors in 10 total attacks. She ended up with a hitting percentage of -.200 in the Cougar loss.
Sophomore hitter Emily Leffers did not play well either. She had seven kills, but also seven errors, which gave her a hitting percentage of .000.
With the thought of a record streak off their minds, the Cougars now must put together two wins in a row in the SWC Tournament. Although the tournament starts Friday, Nov. 18, the Cougars don't play until Nov. 19's second round because they clinched the regular-season title, giving them a first-round bye.
But before they go across town to Rice's Autry Court for the tournament, the Cougars must finish out the remainder of their home schedule.
The Cougars host regional rivals Lamar Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Louisiana Tech Sunday at 2 p.m. Both games will be played in Hofheinz Pavilion.
<I>DIRTY SHAME<P> A SORRY COP-MOVIE SPOOF
by Robert L. Arnold
Daily Cougar Staff
Guns blazing, exploding gas cans and ruthless villains with no conscience or remorse. Even with all these elements, it is <I>A Low Down Dirty Shame<P> that this movie made it into theaters.
Keenen Ivory Wayans wrote, directed and stars in this "Superfly meets Peter Gunn" movie about an ex-cop with a score to settle. Yeah, like this formula hasn't been done to death.
This slice of movie-going torture tells the story of Andre Shame (note the clever pun), played by Wayans, a private detective who lost his job with the police force over a botched drug bust.
Wayans then discovers, through an extremely transparent script, that the drug lord who ruined his career is still alive. Enter Wayans' first dramatic scenes on film. (The term "dramatic" is used extremely loosely here.)
Wayans uses his keen sense of observation to track the drug lord and thereby clear his name. Throughout this game of cat-and-mouse, our hero is aided by his faithful secretary, Peaches, played by Jada Pinkett.
Peaches is billed as a fiery OK, irritating, sidekick Wayans first met when she was caught trying to steal CDs and lingerie. Stop! The uniqueness of the story line is dizzying.
So, as Batman and Robin oops! Wayans and Pinkett, go forth to track down the infamous drug kingpin Mendoza, played nicely by Andrew Divoff, a series of spectacular action scenes mixed with some really bad colloquialisms gives the film a fast pace.
Wayans does lend realism to the role by performing the majority of his own stunts, namely the "I am a graduate of the Jean-Claude Van Damme movie school" fight scenes. Unfortunately, these professional sequences are marred by several childish ones.
Wayans does show a promising talent for directing through his use of camera angles during the action sequences. Also, the comedy dialogue is well-timed and allows Wayans to truly shine as an actor.
Another high point in the film is the role of DEA agent Rothmiller, played wonderfully by Charles S. Dutton, who does a great job of bringing out the dark side of a crooked agent and the greed of a man who turns on his friends.
The plot does try to offer several surprises and plot twists, but falls woefully short on both counts. Even with the lack of a unique story, the film does have potential; unfortunately, Wayans' performance seriously detracts from the serious aspects of the film.
The use of lingo in the script goes too far and serves to leave the viewer thinking, "Gimme a break already!" A perfect example of this stereotypical dialogue comes during one of the final scenes in the movie when Wayans is asked if he is going to smoke Mendoza.
His attempt at a serious response comes when he says, "I'm going to smoke him like a pack of Kools."
<I>Shame<P> does contain all the elements of a high-powered action movie, but many of these aspects are defused by Wayans' script and his lack of ability as a dramatic actor.
Wayans has proven his ability as a director through the action scenes in the film and continues to delight audiences with his smooth style of humor; unfortunately, these are not enough to overshadow the lack of experience he shows in the dramatic areas.
<I>SKANLESS<P> HARD TO SWALLOW
VILLAIN'S NEWEST RELEASE, <I>SKANLESS BUT TRUE<P>, IS RIDDLED WITH CONTRADICTIONS.
by Frank San Miguel
Daily Cougar Staff
Coming from the South Side of Chicago, Villain is your street brother-turned-political brother. On <I>Skanless But True<P>, he rides that fence long enough to confuse everyone, contradictions notwithstanding.
Granted, there is more than one's fair share of former gangsters, or "unsavory" types who have converted to a political perspective Sanyika Shakur (author of <I>Monster<P>), Eldridge Cleaver and Detroit Red to name a few. Among rappers, the ex-gangsters are a big bunch, Ice Cube being the most significant.
It's not that being a gangster and a politico is an irreconcilable contradiction, only that to bring both together is no simple feat. Villain succeeds to a degree, but fails in another sense.
"Set Trippin' " is a perfect example of this. Nestled just after a well-written, but unoriginal off-the-cops song, "Pigs In A Blanket," "Set Trippin' " is all about being a gangster and gunning other gangsters. Then, on "Clip 2 the Gat," Villain is "squabbin' with the media/protecting the black youth" with help from the Nation. Huh? Just who was being shot down on "Trippin' "?
And just how many rappers <I>haven't<P> been saved by the Nation of Islam? Well, chalk up one more for the NOI.
<I>Skanless But True<P> is full of promise, but demonstrates the problems of schizophrenia that lock in too many rappers. They want to be gangsters. They want to be leaders. They want to be the homies on the block. They want to be the spokespeople. It's not that those combinations can't work together, but unless it is done with a great deal of focus, it fails.
Villain, himself, has pretty decent skills, and his songwriting all the lyrics here are his own doesn't seem fake. Nor does it seem that Villain is fake, just not having an especially easy time reconciling the contradiction of wanting to uplift the community on one hand and smoke people in the community on the other.
It has little to do with the music, but makes the whole package hard to swallow. <I>Skanless<P> it may be, but whether Villain is true to his point remains to be seen.