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Slow Burn

Consumed by its own cleverness, Slow Burn is a (very) mild diversion. Just don't expect anything more.


Filmed four years ago, Slow Burn's uses shades of The Usual Suspects, a film it tries way too hard to emulate and ends up being convoluted and often confusing. Ray Liotta plays Ford Cole, an ambitious District Attorney of an unnamed American metropolis, who is having an affair with Nora Timmer (Jolene Blalock), his bi-racial assistant D.A. When she kills a man (Mekhi Phifer) she claims raped her, the matter turns out to be anything but open-and-shut, much to Cole's personal and political chagrin. It turns out that Nora and the dead man were also having an affair. Is Nora the woman that Cole thinks she is? Hmm, maybe not. Then there's Luther Pinks (LL Cool J), who claims to be a friend of Isaac's and whose version of the story is very different than Nora's. The beleaguered Cole must ascertain who's telling the truth and who's not. He obviously hasn't seen enough movies like this one, because it's a forgone conclusion that most everyone's lying.


Despite its many flaws, Slow Burn is made watchable thanks to its cast, most of whom transcend the tricky material. Like Michael Douglas, Liotta (also the film's co-executive producer) is one of those actors we love to watch losing it. He has ample opportunity to do so here. If you can buy Blalock as a femme fatale, then it isn't much of a stretch to believe that her character is bi-racial. She's simply not that strong an actress to pull off the constant sleight-of-hand the character demands. LL Cool J, who seems to be making a career out of movies that spend most of their time on the shelf (Mindhunters and Edison Force, anyone?) plays it cool, which is about all his role affords. Taye Diggs pops up briefly as a prison informant, while Chiwetel Ejiofor plays a magazine reporter dogging Cole's campaign. There are nice bits by Guy Torry as Cole's right-hand man on the police force, who's (understandably) baffled throughout, and by veteran Joe Grifasi as a desk sergeant with too much time on his hands. Best of all is the ever-reliable Bruce McGill, as the chief of police and no fan of Cole's. It's the sort of hard-boiled role that McGill (also recently seen in The Lookout) can--and has--played with ease many times before, but McGill plays it with scene-stealing aplomb.


As first-timer, director/screenwriter Wayne Beach lobs twists and turns left and right with Slow Burn, but he isn't able to maintain consistency or a semblance of credibility. To Beach's credit, there are some intense moments and a couple of sardonic laughs in Slow Burn. It isn't nearly as bad as its lengthy stint on the shelf might indicate, but it's nothing special, either. Beach's previous screenwriting credits include the Wesley Snipes vehicles Murder at 1600 and The Art of War, neither of which were particularly distinguished but passed the time relatively painlessly anyway. Add Slow Burn to the list. There's nice cinematography from two-time Oscar nominee Wally Pfister (Batman Begins, The Prestige– both of which he made after this film). It is appropriately gritty and stylish in the proper film noir tradition. So, Slow Burn does have a few things going for it, save for the Friday the 13th release date. As if it weren't jinxed enough already.

Bottom Line rated this film 2 stars.