- Slow Burn (2005) movie review: Starring Ray Liotta and featuring twists and turns reminiscent of Bryan Singer’s The Usual Suspects, Wayne Beach’s humdrum thriller might as well have remained on the shelf.
Slow Burn movie review: Wayne Beach’s so-so thriller feels like a downgraded version of Bryan Singer’s The Usual Suspects
Filmed in 2003 but mostly kept on the shelf until now, Slow Burn smells a lot like a flimsy version of Bryan Singer’s The Usual Suspects. While the plot of this so-so film noir includes plenty of bewildering twists, screenwriter-director Wayne Beach, making his behind-the-camera debut, keeps things moving at a steady pace while managing to generate a reasonable amount of suspense every now and then.
The story focuses on committed District Attorney Ford Cole (Ray Liotta), whose potential mayoral career is on the line after his assistant D.A. and lover, Nora Timmer (Jolene Blalock), becomes involved in the murder of Isaac Duperde (Mekhi Phifer), a local CD vendor who she claims attempted to rape her.
The case, however, grows more mysterious with the sudden appearance of Luther Pinks (LL Cool J), a close friend of the victim who assures Cole that Isaac and Nora were in fact lovers, and that she had persuaded him to reveal the whereabouts of an elusive criminal gang lord.
With time running out, it is now up to Cole to uncover the truth if he wants to save his career.
Overloaded plot + shallow message
Wayne Beach spends most of the first act weaving a web of intrigue in order to create as much suspense as possible. Unfortunately, he overloads the plot (from a screen story by himself and Anthony Walton) with successive twists that are too confusing to follow, thus destroying the credibility of his characters.
But then again, that doesn’t really matter, as the moment you leave the theater you’ll probably be unable to remember who was doing what to whom – and why.
Beach clearly wants to say Something Important in Slow Burn, but the film’s message turns out to be so shallow and cliched that he could have easily skipped the whole jumble of conspiracies and just have one of his characters spit out said message in two sentences – if that many.
Poorly developed political and ethnic issues are tossed around, in addition to being metaphorically embedded into the bizarre behavior of Blalock’s biethnic character, whose only other purpose in the film is to show it all off in several overlong nude scenes.
On the plus side, Wally Pfister’s compelling cinematography and Kristina Boden’s dynamic editing are two of Slow Burn’s best assets. Although the effectiveness of their work is somewhat lessened by the plot’s weaknesses, they succeed in creating a dark and claustrophobic atmosphere.
The popularity of the ensemble cast is probably what kept Slow Burn from going straight to video in the United States, even if none of the film’s big-name actors – except for Ray Liotta (also a co-executive producer on the film) – live up to their reputation.
As usual, Liotta imbues his character with the right amount of charisma and strength, but he fails to receive the necessary support from LL Cool J and Mekhi Phifer. The excellent Chiwetel Ejiofor is also in the cast, but his character is too underdeveloped to make any sort of impact.
Slow Burn may not be a total waste of time or money, but it’s inarguably a disappointment mostly due to its subpar screenplay. Few people seemed to care as to why it took more than three years for this crime drama to hit the big screen; and frankly, even fewer will care about its fate after it disappears from view.
Slow Burn (2007)
Director: Wayne Beach.
Screenplay: Wayne Beach.
From a screen story by Beach & Anthony Walton.
Cast: Ray Liotta. LL Cool J. Mekhi Phifer. Jolene Blalock. Chiwetel Ejiofor. Taye Diggs. Bruce McGill. Donny Falsetti.
“Slow Burn Movie: Liotta Can’t Rescue Usual Suspects Rehash” review text © Franck Tabouring; excerpt, image captions, bullet point introduction, and notes/endnotes © Alt Film Guide.
“Slow Burn Movie (2007) Review” endnotes
Ray Liotta and Jolene Blalock Slow Burn movie image: DEJ Productions.
“Slow Burn Movie: Liotta Can’t Rescue Usual Suspects Rehash” last updated in September 2021.