Filmed in 2003 but kept on the shelf until now, "Slow Burn" is a so-so film noir that includes plenty of bewildering twists. Screenwriter-director Wayne Beach directorial 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 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.
After watching this I personally thought Beach overloads his plot (from a story by himself and Anthony Walton) with successive twists that are too confusing to follow, thus destroying the credibility of his characters. The mystery elements of the story never really gel, and its much more confusing than it has to be. This is especially true considering the fact that the end of the movie is pretty much given away in the middle of the film, and I was sitting there waiting for my guess to pan out... which it did. They did, however, switch it up on me a few times with some red herrings here and there. It's still fun to watch, but some tighter writing would have put the film over the top.
The best parts of the movie are the concepts and philosophies dealing with race that are present in the film. The most intriguing of these is the concept of "passing," a situation where someone can pass as a member of another race, perhaps even two. As far as I know, this concept has only been played with in comedic films that make fun of the idea rather than explore the impact it can have on people's everyday lives where race is such a big factor. The ideas presented in the film are subtle, realistic, and never in your face. Those not interested in racial issues can skip over the ideas without a second thought, but they would never really get the full impact of the movie as much of the cultural aspects of the film are not told explicitly, but are implied, relying on the viewer's own concepts of race and culture.
The popularity of the ensemble cast is probably what kept "Slow Burn" from going straight to video, even though none of the film's big-name actors -- except Ray Liotta -- 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 the inadequate LL Cool J and Mekhi Phifer. Also in the cast is the excellent Chiwetel Ejiofor, but his character is too underdeveloped to make any sort of impact. "Slow Burn," is just a plain old crime thriller and may not be a total waste of time or money, but it is in-arguably a slight disappointment -- mostly because of its sub par screenplay. If you view it as a relative cultural issues playing major parts in the events of people's lives, its amazing. Somewhere in the middle, you will find the true nature of Slow Burn.