- Wayne Beach
- Ray Liotta, LL Cool J, Taye Diggs, Jolene Blaylock, Mekhi Phifer, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Bruce McGill
- 93 min.
- Release Date
If when watching this film (and I hope you don’t) you wonder why Ray Liotta looks younger than he should, it’s because Slow Burn was filmed in 2003, but due to poor reception in pre-screenings and an indecisive studio, it didn’t get released until 2007. “The Curse of LL Cool J” strikes yet another film. Ridiculously credited as “James Todd Smith, aka LL Cool J,” the majority of the rapper’s last few films have ended up in post-production hell due to bad reception. Rollerball received poor previews and changed from a May 2001 release date several times until a February 2002 date was finally set. Due to troubles at Miramax, Dimension, and Disney, LL or Smith or whatever didn’t see his 2003 film Mindhunters hit theaters until 2005. An action film called Edison made in 2005, which featured Morgan Freeman and Kevin Spacey starring alongside LL, was also deemed so bad that it finally received its release in 2006, direct-to-DVD, under the title Edison Force.
Slow Burn plays out like a poor-man’s blending of The Usual Suspects and Basic Instinct, except not interesting or, you know, good. Claiming self-preservation against rape when a dead man ends up in her bed, assistant district attorney Nora Timmer (Jolene Blalock) spins a web of lies to her D.A. boss Ford Cole (Ray Liotta). She claims to have been stalked for the last week, and then suddenly her stalker, Isaac (Mekhi Phifer), was in her house attempting to sexually assault her. She kills him, making what should be the perfect open-and-shut self-defense case… But after hearing her story, Cole listens as Isaac’s friend Luther Pinks (LL Cool J, et al) tells a different story.
Liotta’s Cole character gets tossed like a rag doll, following incorrect leads and misinformation, all while worrying about the cliché running-for-mayor device. Hoping to catch the city’s yet-unseen crime boss, Cole suspects his witnesses Timmer and Pinks have associations with his longtime nemesis (a mysterious figure no one has ever seen—an equivalent to Keyser Söze). As the story unfolds, Cole hears rumors and hearsay concerning this elusive crime lord’s connection to something happening at 5 a.m. (the story’s most predictable twist).
Pinks claims Timmer, an apparently biracial woman, may not be African American at all, but instead someone who could pass as either white or black given the correct lighting. Using her feminine wiles and racial ambiguity for who-knows-what, Timmer, the chameleon femme fatale, really gets around (wink-wink). Fans of the short-lived Star Trek series Enterprise (a nonsensical concept endorsed by only the nerdiest Trekkies) will be pleased to know that former castmember Blalock (T’Pol) engages in several sex scenes throughout Slow Burn. But for the rest of us not obsessed with seeing Trek alum naked, most of these scenes involve either Ray Liotta or Mekhi Phifer kissing Blalock’s ass, literally (which makes me wonder what’s on the mind of writer and first-time director Wayne Beach). These scenes feel unnecessary and forced, and I imagine someone promoting the film called them “steamy.” I call them cheap.
Who is the crime lord? What’s happening at 5 am? Is Timmer black or white? Does anyone in the audience care? À la The Usual Suspects, the narrative is delivered in flashbacks, but instead of just one disingenuous informant, audiences get two: LL Cool J and Jolene Blalock. Lies, leading to plot twist upon plot twist pour in like lumpy milk down the drain, clogging and stinking up the screen with their absurdity. With more twists than a Twizzler, by the end I just didn’t care about Slow Burn‘s secrets anymore. I won’t even start deconstructing plot holes, as this review would go on for another 1,000 words if I did. Even with Ray Liotta in a much-needed leading role, and also Chiwetel Ejiofor and Mekhi Phifer giving so-so supporting performances, the film’s star power cannot make up for the lacking logic and pitifully nonsensical storytelling.