Slow Burn



NEW YORK -- The sort of cheesy thriller that would prove mildly diverting on late-night cable, "Slow Burn" at least features a terrific cast to enliven its familiar elements. Equally derivative of John Grisham and "The Usual Suspects," the film opened nationwide Friday without being screened for critics despite the fact that it played the Toronto International Film Festival a couple of years ago.

Ray Liotta stars as Ford Cole, a hotshot district attorney who is grooming himself for the mayoral race.

His political career is put into jeopardy one fateful night -- when he is being followed around by a Vanity Fair reporter (Chiwetel Ejiofor), no less -- when his beautiful, biracial assistant D.A. and lover (Jolene Blalock, formerly of "Star Trek: Enterprise") is arrested in the killing of a stalker (Mekhi Phifer) who allegedly raped her.

Desperately racing to clear the case in the predawn hours to save his own skin, Cole finds himself even more flummoxed when the victim's fellow record store employee (billed as James Todd Smith aka LL Cool J, and isn't it time he picked a name already?) shows up at the station to claim that the shooter and victim were in fact lovers.

The ensuing investigation features plenty of twists and turns involving a shady real estate deal, an apparently all-powerful but never seen gang leader, the perpetrator's dubious racial heritage and enough false identities to fill a dozen Agatha Christie novels.

Director-screenwriter Wayne Beach ("Murder at 1600," "The Art of War") provides properly moody atmospherics and keeps things moving at a relatively swift pace but is ultimately unable to compensate for the story's inconsistencies, incongruities and implausibility. Not helping matters is the series of cheesy, film noir-style one-liners that Cool J is forced to utter, including: "She stood there like a tangerine, ripe and ready to be plucked"; "The closest her family's been to Africa is Whitney Houston's greatest hits"; and (our favorite), "She walked in the room smelling like mashed potatoes and every man wanted to be the gravy."

The supporting cast, which also includes Bruce McGill, Taye Diggs, Joe Grifasi and co-producer Fisher Stevens delivering pungent turns, is uncommonly good, and "Trek" fans will no doubt appreciate the opportunity to ogle the gorgeous Blalock in her several nude scenes.

Director-screenwriter: Wayne Beach
Story: Wayne Beach, Anthony Walton
Producers: Fisher Stevens, Sidney Kimmel, Bonnie Timmermann
Executive producers: John Penotti, Andrew Karsch
Director of photography: Wally Pfister
Editor: Kristina Boden
Production designer: Tim Galvin
Music: Jeff Rona
Ford Cole: Ray Liotta
Luther Pinks: James Todd Smith aka LL Cool J
Isaac Duperde: Mekhi Phifer
Godfrey: Bruce McGill
Ty Trippin: Chiwetel Ejiofor
Jeffrey Sykes: Taye Diggs
Nora Timmer: Jolene Blalock
Running time -- 93 minutes
MPAA rating: R