Dir/scr: Wayne Beach. US. 2005. 93mins.

A debut feature directed and written by Wayne Beach, Slow Burn is too reminiscent of The Usual Suspects for its own good, andas such seems more likely to end up at the neighbourhood video store than the nearestmultiplex.

It's a tricked out mystery, though rather than luxuriate in the sleazeand nastiness, Beach wants to be taken seriously. But he introduces, veryawkwardly, some unreflective ideas about race and representation into hiscrudely drawn and derivative thriller, resulting not just in a bad movie but asometimes unpleasant experience.

Sam Fuller knew how to play off social observation, race and classbrilliantly in his 1950s crime movies, but the didactic and mannered way thatBeach couches his arguments makes SlowBurn even more spurious.

Set in an unidentified blighted urban centre (shot in suburban Montreal,the streets are all named after Chicago locations), the movie opens with thediscovery of a dead man, Isaac Duparde (Phifer), in the bed of beautiful, talented assistantdistrict attorney Nora Timmer (Blalock), who isrenown for her work in anti-gang crime.

Nora insists she acted in self-defence to fend off a rapist: her boss,Ford Lowell (Liotta), a politically ambitioushardliner running for mayor, believes her. But then Luther Pinks (Smith), afriend and co-worker, contradicts her version with detailed, credible evidencethat Nora is a criminal mastermind working in concert with a notorious unseencrime lord who is keen to gain valuable possession of a development location.

In the flashbacks that constitute a serious part of the narrative,Nora's testimony as a courageous public official is counterpointedagainst Pinks' story that paints her as a duplicious,vicious femme fatale who utilises sexual manipulation, blackmail and trickeryto achieve her cruel ends.

Working against a growing body count and desperate to identify the crimelord, Ford is given a four-hour deadline to solve the multiple mysteries andbreak up the conspiracy ring.

Photographed by the talented Wally Pfister (Memento, Batman Begins), Slow Burn is competently made but, inmost other respects, it's a photocopy of a movie, and everything feelssecondary and better down before. (Beach wrote the Wesley Snipes'svehicles Murder At 1600 and Art Of War, andhe's clearly fond of politically inflected crime thrillers.)

The actors take the material seriously despite their characters beingcrudely drawn and occasionally leaving a bitter taste. But the opportunistictone makes it often unwatchable and its scenes drained of tension, interest anddramatic revelation.

Production companies
GreeneStreet Films
Sidney Kimmel Entertainment

International sales
GreeneStreet Films

Executive producers
John Penotti
Andrew Karsch
Andy Reimer

Fisher Stevens
Sidney Kimmel
Bonnie Timmermann
Tim Williams

Wayne Beach
Anthony Walton

Wally Pfister

Kristina Boden

Production design
Tim Galvin

Jeff Rona

Main cast
Ray Liotta
James Todd Smith (aka LL Cool J)
Mekhi Phifer
Jolene Blalock
Taye Diggs
Chiwetel Ejiofor