Mark Reviews Movies

SLOW BURN

1 Star (out of 4)

Director: Wayne Beach

Cast: Ray Liotta, James Todd Smith (aka, LL Cool J), Mekhi Phifer, Jolene Blalock, Guy Torry, Taye Diggs, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Bruce McGill

MPAA Rating:   (for sexuality, violence and language)

Running Time: 1:33

Release Date: 4/13/07



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Review by Mark Dujsik

Filmed in 2003, shelved, featured at the Toronto Film Festival in 2005, shelved again, released on DVD overseas, and now appearing in theaters stateside, one wonders why Slow Burn wasn't just dumped completely. The reasoning behind the huge delay is fairly obvious. The movie gets so much wrong, it can't even get the ticking clock convention right. It starts off a very unconvincing take on Rashomon and ends with a lot more than traces of The Usual Suspects. It's insignificant throughout and nearly intolerable by the end, with writer/director Wayne Beach clearing out the market of convoluted script machinations (It's a red herring discount special!  Every false plot move must go!). It isn't just the extended climax of revelations of secret identities and confusing character motivations that's convoluted, though, and the whole movie piles on doubt and conflicting perspectives of the same story. It might be interesting if the ultimate outcome weren't telegraphed half an hour into the movie. The twists of this movie are like a dice toss. Pick a character, and at some point, Beach is going to convince you he/she is the villain, only to toss it aside thirty seconds later for yet another surprise.

The movie starts off with a voice-over by Ray Liotta's District Attorney Ford Cole telling how surprise is the enemy of the prosecutor. It's a sad reminder of how far down the actor's career has gone from the moment he sold Goodfellas with his opening narration. He also speaks of Assistant DA Nora Timmer (Jolene Blalock), who, as a woman of mixed race, can get at cases he and his other prosecutors cannot (a silent montage of her accompanies, a moment where she slams her hands on a table showing us that she's tough). Cole is driving with reporter Ty Trippin (Chiwetel Ejiofor, and no, I did not make up that character name), who has come to town to interview the DA, who is also making a run for mayor. We also get a lot of backstory here, and it's something about rival gangs and housing projects and industrial deals and a mysterious crime leader of Keyser Soze-proportions named Danny Lewton. It all passes through the ear and out the other side, though, because it's too much unconnected nonsense too soon. Anyway, Cole is brought into the police station because Nora has shot and killed a man she claims raped her in her home.

The story seems fine, but in comes Luther Pinks (James Todd Smith, or, as the credits expand, aka LL Cool J, and no, I am not making that character name up either), who tells Cole that the shooting was not self-defense but murder. He also has his doubts about Nora's heritage. Well, no kidding. Jolene Blalock's skin is unconvincingly and inconsistently darkened here, and maybe it's just a "trick of the light," as Luther says, but it's more than a bit distracting. Then again, Luther also infers situations and people by the way they smell, giving us such gems of dialogue as, "This place smells like pot roast. Burnt pot roast." He distrusted the grapefruit-smelling Nora from the beginning when she met his now deceased buddy Jeffrey (Mekhi Phifer) at a record store and asked Jeff for a ride home. Or at least that's the story Luther's spinning, because Nora tells Cole that Jeff was stalking her. Let us pause here for a moment for another of Luther's descriptions of Nora's aroma: "She stood there smelling like a tangerine: ripe and ready to be peeled." Can we trust Luther? After all, how is he privy to information to which he was not a witness? It seems Jeff was a man of little secrets and even less sense.

There are some other problems, too. A gas leak has erupted in the housing projects area of the city. A gas leak, I repeat, because, yes, it will be important. And yes, when it does become vital that the audience realize this was set up early in the movie for a good reason, Beach does indeed have a rapid-fire montage of people saying the phrase "gas leak" over and over again, just so we know how smart he was to set it up early on. I must stop again, though, so we may hear yet another of Luther's nasal readings of Nora: "She walked in smelling like mashed potatoes, and every man within thirty feet wanted to be the gravy." There are tons of flashbacks thrown in, primarily of Nora in bed with either Cole or Jeff, telling them all about how you can put on a new face if you don't like the one life's given you (before putting on a mask to emphasize the point and make a sex scene pretty damn funny) or talking about Lewton some more. She's not too good with pillow talk, but she turns a moment of threatening to kill Jeff into a soft-core porn moment, complete with drums kicking in when the mood shifts.

To say the movie is a mess is to be polite, and the only reason to stay through till the end is to find out who this Lewton guy really is. If you make it through the seemingly unstoppable lineup of false accusations and obvious revelations, you will be disappointed by the answer(s).. At one point, Cole turns the tables on Luther, for once giving him a lesson in odor: "I can smell all kinds of shit." That makes two of us.

Copyright 2007 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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