Directed by Wayne Beach. Starring Ray Liotta, LL Cool J, Mekhi Phifer, Jolene Blalock, Taye Diggs, Chiwetel Ejiofor. (2007, R, 93 min.)
REVIEWED By Toddy Burton, Fri., April 20, 2007
“She walked in smelling like mashed potatoes and every man there wanted to be the gravy,” croons LL Cool J (billed as James Todd Smith) during a heated voiceover flashback. Though the scene is played in all earnestness, it’s pretty near impossible to stifle a giggle. Like a manual on the art of the cliché, writer/director Beach’s script is rife with inanities. And ultimately, Slow Burn becomes one of those movies that’s so bad, it’s almost entertaining. Almost. Occurring over a 12-hour period, the film follows Ford (Liotta), the ambitious district attorney of an unnamed metropolis, whose recently launched mayoral bid is threatened by the enigmatic leader of the city’s most powerful gang. The story launches with the arrest of Ford’s right hand and sometime lover assistant DA Nora (Blalock). An interrogation begins, other witnesses arrive (including Cool J) and before long, we’re in a mess of flashbacks and he said/she said ridiculousness. Was Nora raped or did she murder her lover? Do all the pieces point toward the identity of the villainous gang leader? And most important, how many fuzzy extreme close-ups can fit into one movie? A blatant rip-off of director Bryan Singer’s brilliant The Usual Suspects, Slow Burn (which was completed a few years ago) follows Ford’s maddening search for the mysterious gang leader. But Cool J is no Kevin Spacey and Liotta’s days of GoodFellas brilliance have settled into a hazy memory. Spoon-feeding every piece of important information, the film is awash in repetition and careful setups. In fact, significant plot points are repeated with such attention, you’d think the movie was made as a tool for foreigners to learn English. Voiceover narration reigns and eventually you forget who’s telling the story, and worse, you don’t care. The fairly strong lineup of talent (including the effective Ejiofor from Children of Men) is enough to make one wonder whether the actors read the script prior to signing on to the project. The cast, particularly Liotta, walks around with befuddled expressions on their faces, perhaps wondering what on earth they’re doing in this movie and how they can find a new agent ASAP.