STUDIO: Lions Gate
RUNNING TIME: 93 Minutes
• Audio Commentary by Wayne Beach
• Deleted and Alternate Scenes
• “Fire in the Streets” featurette
“It’s The Usual Suspects as written by James Ellroy! Except replace Ellroy with Danny Cannon. And make the whole thing suck.”
Ray Liotta, LL Cool J, Mekhi Phifer, Bruce McGill, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Taye Diggs, Jolene Blalock
Ford Cole, LA D.A. and no relation to Ford Fairlane, has a bit of a burr up his butt. His sexy deputy has killed a man, claiming self-defense, while the mysterious Luther Pinks says otherwise. Cole has hours to find the truth and protect his own job, but the truth, as it were, might cost him more dearly than job security.
See what I did there? Yep, I’m an English major, people.
Slow Burn is so fucking stupid. Amazingly, stupendously, ball-breakingly stupid. I’m a bit agog that something this dumb got made with a cast as good as it has (more on this later), but I guess by now, I should learn not to be surprised with such developments. This flick was cut and wrapped in 2003. We’re only just seeing it now. That should tell you all you need to know.
But, in case you were wondering, “Gee, why so dumb,” I’ll tell you. One of my favorite little jokes in Arrested Development is a recurring song called “Keep Those Balls in the Air” where a hilariously macho rock group (think Survivor in their “Eye of the Tiger” prime) equates being able to juggle a lot in the air with masculinity. It’s patently ridiculous, which makes you wonder why Wayne Beach adopted kinda the same approach with the writing of this flick, only in his mind, equate “masculine” with “edgy.” Maybe (shock!) he was one of the millions who didn’t watch that fine program, but I digress; even if you weren’t an AD fan, this kind of narrative complication is not something you do if you can’t pull it off. Beach throws so many narrative balls in the air at once. We get a comment on race relations in LA, a mysterious and all powerful crime lord, a journalistic expose, fucking real estate, the moral decay of a good man (Liotta), potential FBI shadowing, all the requisite twists and turns you’d ever care to have, and LL Cool J. Now, I’m not advocating against simplistic plots in cinema. I’m saying if you’re gonna go for it, you do it right. Slow Burn doesn’t do it right. None of these threads feel organic, and they bump off against one another awkwardly. It’s as though this script went through many different permutations, each reflecting one of the aforementioned bits of business, and in the end, Wayne went and said, “Fuck it, I’ll make it all fit.”
My, how the proud do fall.
Most egregious are the crime lord and the race relations bit. Having Blalock’s race be a source of mystery gives this flick a weight it can’t bear. There’s an interesting story here, maybe; how race affects murder and the media, but aren’t we a little bushed of that shit following O.J. (and twice, too!)? Even still, it’s not treated with any gravity or weight here—it’s just another plot twist to squirrel away for the ending. As for the crime lord stuff…it’s times like these I wish The Usual Suspects never came out. So much about the search for Keyser Soze…um, I mean, Danny Luden, plays out exactly like the Singer/McQuarrie masterpiece that it crosses over from homage and safely falls into the “someone should maybe call an attorney” field. Similar conversations, reveals about the character, it all reeks of movie thievery. And it doesn’t work. Movie fans will find it a) lazy, and b) boring, ‘cause they’ll probably be able to figure it all out long before the movie ends. Maybe people who haven’t seen The Usual Suspects will like it. I just can’t know for sure.
Even then, they’d be hard-pressed to enjoy the bland direction and terrible dialogue, most of it spewed from good old LL’s mouth. Beach gets a double slap on the wrist for the last one: once for thinking LL could convincing speak Raymond Chandler-esque dialogue, and then again for thinking he could convincing write such talk. It’s just horrible, and it leaves an otherwise fine cast looking visibly perturbed. This flick really has a good cast: Mekhi Phifer, Ray Liotta, Bruce McGill, fucking Chiwetel Ejiofer. And they’re all pretty uninspired. Ejiofer comes off best, mostly because he’s criminally underused (when, oh when, will filmmakers learn this guy could be the biggest star in the whole world if given a meaty part in a big flick?), while Liotta, fresh off a lighting run of projects including Smith and Wild Hogs, just looks unhappy. Maybe Beach would tell you his character’s struggling through the myriad of plot and intrigue. I say he’s painfully trying to figure out what the fuck went wrong after Narc came out.
Yep, wasn’t a fan of this one. It should’a stayed shelved, but at least crap like this gives guys like me something to rant about. So good on that, I guess.
The flick looks clean enough, but Beach also tends to bathe the action in soft-focus, which got distracting real fast. Sound’s decent, but this isn’t a flick that relies on loud noises. The cover’s not-too-shabby; it’s a stark shot of LL and Liotta, and only the floating heads at the bottom seem extraneous.
We get a few features. None are particularly interesting. The commentary by Beach starts out strong, with some good stuff on the major changes in the direction of the story (surprise!), but peters out fast. Despite its provocative title, the “Fire in the Streets” documentary is just a short, EPK featurette. And the deleted scenes are muy skippable—an ending with a new voiceover, and an extraneous piece featuring more Blalock.
This movie typifies DTV quality. Shame so many talented people got suckered into it. The disc looks and sounds fine, but the features are pretty useless.