Slow Burn (2005) / Thriller-Mystery

MPAA Rated: R for sexuality, nudity, violence, and language
Running Time: 93 min.

Cast: Ray Liotta, LL Cool J, Jolene Blalock, Mekhi Pfiffer, Guy Torry, Taye Diggs, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Bruce McGill, Fisher Stevens
Director: Wayne Beach
Screenplay: Wayne Beach

I'm not entirely sure why Slow Burn had been chosen as a potential theatrical release, as everything about it but the decent cast smells like a direct-to-video release, much in the same vein as a similarly dark thriller with a big name case set in a nondescript urban setting, Edison Force (coincidentally, also featuring LL Cool J). Having been shelved for several years, perhaps the thinking is that the cast is too solid to make a debut on video, but despite easily recognizable names and faces, none of the actors comes close to generating surefire success at the box office off of name recognition alone. 

Ray Liotta (Revolver, The Last Shot) gets the starring role of ambitious District Attorney Ford Cole, who for years has actively been in a battle with the most powerful criminal mastermind in the country, a person so elusive that only the name is known, Danny Luden.  Try as he might, he hasn't been able to finger the crime lord, although he gets into a pickle where he must figure it out when his girlfriend, a biracial, successful Assistant D.A., Nora Timmer (Blalock, "Enterprise"), comes to him claiming she has been raped by a stalker named Isaac Duperde (Phifer, Honey). In comes another witness, Duperde's friend and coworker, Luther Pinks (LL Cool J, Mindhunters), who claims that Timmer wasn't raped, but rather, seduced Duperde for information regarding Danny Luden.

Slow Burn might have a capable cast, enough to interest fans of the actors, but it suffers from a leaden, gimmicky story that compares unfavorably to The Usual Suspects, especially in the nature of Danny Luden's ever-elusive reputation.  It isn't so much a story as it is a mental exercise for viewers, as we have little to do but try to look for clues as to which one of the cast is actually Danny Luden, if any. 

Written by Wayne Beach, who wrote two previous misfire thrillers for Wesley Snipes in Murder at 1600 and The Art of War, this is his first directorial effort, and he doesn't show much more propensity in handling his artificial scenarios than the directors of his other works.  Tells abound, including his strange habit of injecting mild spoilers in the character names, like Danny Luden ("elude"), Nora Timmer ("no rat"), Isaac Duperde ("dupe"), not to mention the obviousness of Jeffrey "Sykes" and Ty Trippin".  Shot in Canada, the locations and backdrops evoke that certain generic feel, with most internal shots suffering from very limited lighting and claustrophobic framing that reveals the film's budgetary limitations all too glaringly.  It's the sort of movie one generally finds while flipping through cable channels where you see the cast names and wonder why you've never heard of it before, only to watch it for a bit and realize why.

Within the construct of the story, there's a lot of commentary on the nature of race, and especially in how people wear different masks in order to adapt to their surroundings (chameleons are a motif) get what they ultimately want.  Plenty of red herrings abound, with nearly every member of the cast set up at alternate times to look like he (or she) could be the "Kaiser Soze" of the story, such that the end practically doesn't ultimately matter in terms of who is the real mastermind or why.  If you're fooled by it (I'll admit, it wasn't the person I suspected) perhaps you might think this an adequate enough mystery to titillate for a short 90 minutes, so long as you don't think too hard at how implausible all of the events that get us up to that point must have been in order for things to go down precisely according to plan.

Slow Burn lives up to its title by starting off slow, heating up near the climax, and as the credits start to roll, you come to the realization that that you're the one who has been burned, victimized out of your money, time, and the sheer the mental energy expended in trying to figure out the solution to this puzzle that is constructed in too superficial a fashion to resonate.  While The Usual Suspects had been ingeniously constructed to the point where watching it multiple times proves to be even more fascinating than the first time through, Slow Burn's unconvincing character motivations and narrative excess make it too tedious to reward paying diligent attention to, even on the first go around.  LL Cool J's character, Pinks, often associates people and places with the smells of certain foods; I suspect that he'd say that the movie he appears in smells like a turkey.

Qwipster's rating:

2007 Vince Leo