While watching this movie Judge Roy Hrab developed a slow, burning sensation in his eyes, ears, and mind. It was not a pleasant experience. Fortunately, it only lasted for 93 minutes.
Our review of Slow Burn, published September 26th, 2000, is also available.
Tonight Trust No One.
Slow Burn was filmed in 2003. The film received its world premiere at the 2005 Toronto International Film Festival. In April 2007, it was released theatrically in the United States. A general rule about films is that a prolonged period between production and distribution does not bode well for the quality of a movie. The lethargic, tedious and derivative Slow Burn is no exception.
Facts of the Case
In an unnamed city, district attorney Ford Cole (Ray Liotta, Goodfellas) is running for mayor. Tonight he is showing a reporter, Ty Trippin (Chiwetel Ejiofor, Inside Man), around the city. The tour is interrupted when Ford receives word that his primary assistant district attorney, Nora Timmer (Jolene Blalock, Star Trek: Enterprise, Season One), has been brought in for killing a man, Isaac Dupaarde (Mekhi Phifer, Dawn Of The Dead (2004)). Timmer claims that she killed Dupaard in self-defense. However, a man named Luther Pinks (James Todd Smith, aka LL Cool J, Rollerball (2002)) shows up at the police station with a much different story about the relationship between Timmer and Dupaard. Can Cole separate fact from fiction in time? Can he trust anybody? Does it matter?
Slow Burn contains an exhausting array of twists and turns that don't amount to much. It is an insufferable film with few redeeming qualities. It owes almost everything to The Usual Suspects, especially an apology. The film's saving grace is a relatively brief 93 minute runtime.
The Usual Suspects and Amadeus revealed that recollection based storytelling can be extremely effective, provided that the story is compelling. This is where Slow Burn fails. Following the revelation of the murder numerous points of view on the events are presented. First, Nora gives her version. Second, Luther gives his version that also includes what Dupaard supposedly told him. The film flips between these different presentations. Along the way, Ford has some flashbacks of his own. The trouble is that it is a busy story with nowhere to go.
Motives and identities change regularly as the various stories intertwine and deviate. Is Dupaard's death murder or self-defense? Who is Luther: a gangster, ex-cop, music store manager, or something else? What is going to happen at 5 a.m. in the morning? What is the identity of Ford's nemesis, elusive crime lord Keyzer Soze…um, sorry, I mean Danny Luden? Do you follow? Maybe, but even if you do, there's not much happening here. It's just a lot of unrelated information.
Case in point: On top of the main story is another mystery: Is Nora Timmer biracial (Caucasian and African American descent) or purely Caucasian? The film seems to be trying to make some kind of statement on race in America and the relationship between race and identity with this tangential plot point. And perhaps there is a good movie to be made about this issue. However, this is not the movie to do it. Instead, Slow Burn undermines itself in general, and on this particular matter, with dead-ends and ridiculous dialogue. For example, Pinks claims that Dupaard found evidence indicating that Timmer is Caucasian. As Pinks puts it: "Nobody in her family looks any darker than Celine Dion after a bad day at the beach" and that "the closest her family's been to Africa is Whitney Houston's Greatest Hits." Some may call this hard-boiled dialogue; I call it regrettable writing.
Unfortunately, Cool J's groan inducing lines are not restricted to the Timmer race issue. The worst (or best, depending on your point of view) dialogue in the movie revolves around Pinks's sense of smell. He has "a short in [his] brain" that has distorted the way he processes smells: "Everything smells like food all the time." This is an interesting character quirk that leads to many laughable statements: "The city smelled like grapefruit"; the interrogation room smells like burned pot roast; Nora smells like "a tangerine, ripe and ready to be peeled" (?), a mango (?!), and on another occasion mashed potatoes (?!?!). Need I go on?
In a futile attempt to make the story interesting, the film continues to pile on more twists at an exponential rate. These include: a $500 million real estate development, a gas leak, mistaken identities, revealed identities, double crosses, F.B.I. involvement, red herrings, and more flashbacks. The film wraps it all up rapidly to minimal effect, except for giving viewers a bad case of vertigo. At the end of the day, the film is all over the map, so it never builds to anything exciting. For example, the issue of Timmer's race has no impact on the outcome of the story, but there is a fair amount of time spent dwelling on it. Why?
So, after all the hijinks and absurd dialogue, the film fails to generate interest in the story and characters. It thinks it's clever and complex, but it's just unfocused and boring.
The cast is lost. Liotta looks confused most of the time. LL Cool J's performance is morose. That's not surprising given his lines. Blalock's performance is so stiff that she seems to channelling David Caruso (CSI: Miami: The Complete First Season). The supporting cast, including Phifer, Ejiofor and Taye Diggs (Rent), are fortunate that their screen time and dialogue are limited.
Unlike the story and dialogue the DVD's technical aspects are excellent. The video transfer is solid. The Dolby surround and stereo audio tracks are clear.
A number of non-impressive extras are included on the release: commentary with Writer and Director Wayne Beach (Murder At 1600), a making-of featurette, an alternate ending, a deleted scene, a trivia track, and trailers. The commentary track gives some interesting information about the origins of the story, differences between the script and film, and details about how some scenes were changed. However, Beach begins to run out of meaningful things to talk about as the film goes on. The short featurette includes comments about the film from Beach and many members of the cast; it's a puff piece. The alternate ending has Blalock giving the voiceover instead of Liotta; it is of little consequence. Similarly, the deleted scene is forgettable. The trivia track gives literally trivial information on the cast, crew, and miscellaneous stuff (for example, the track states that "Most police vehicles are Ford Crown Victorias") in the form of subtitles; it's for trivia lovers only.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
People who love convoluted stories may want to take a look. However, I think camp appeal based on LL Cool J's ludicrous dialogue is the only possible avenue of redemption for this movie.
Slow Burn is not a good movie. End of story. Go watch The Usual Suspects if you're in the mood for a twisted tale.
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Scales of Justice
• Commentary with Writer and Director Wayne Beach
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