There’s something about a cheap, trashy mystery that satisfies without substance. It holds your attention and passes the time; yet, you forget what it was about as soon as it is over. Though barely one step above a straight to DVD release, Slow Burn succeeds in not taking itself seriously, but that doesn't mean it's worth seeing.
Between Midnight and 5 a.m., Ray Liotta will have the most confusing five hours of his life. He’s a district attorney who just found out that his assistant D.A. (who also happens to be his secret lover) has killed a man who was trying to rape her. Or was he? A mysterious smooth talker (LL Cool J) shakes Liotta’s confidence with a tale of his assistant D.A.’s involvement with a notorious gangster Liotta has been chasing for years. From there we’re with Liotta every step of the way, as he runs from interrogation room to interrogation room saying, “What’s going on?”
Slow Burn sets itself up as a run-of-the-mill, who-dun-it police mystery, but rides a wave of ridiculousness. Most of the hilarity is brought on by LL Cool J who associates memories with smells. From Grapefruit and Mashed Potatoes to Big Macs and Gravy, guessing what LL Cool J is about to smell next is more fun than guess who’s the perp. With this air of goofiness it’s hard to take anything in the film seriously, so you've got to wonder why they'd bother to tackle a serious topic like racism.
Race is always a hot button issue, but when it's masked by food aromas and taped “Friends” re-runs as a plot device, it loses its potency. Ray Liotta plays the clueless white man, while the elusive gangster “Danny” is the superior black man and the assistant D.A. is a bi-racial “sister” who can walk in both worlds. While there may be some underlying racial commentary within these characters, the film doesn’t take a stance or deliver any kind of message. Instead, first-time director/writer Wayne Beach focuses more on plot twists. Perhaps it’s the green under his gills that didn’t allow Beach to craft a movie with a thematic subtext when he had all the pieces. He fumbles with the racial commentary like he’s holding a hot potato and then makes a joke when he drops it.
The movie’s quick pace helps it skip over badly handled heavy subtext, as keep you skimming on the plot’s surface. The Slow Burn gives out enough info to keep you guessing without being completely confused. Unfortunately, the twists are as ridiculous as dialogue, which escalates to a twist a minute in the film’s last five. By the time the credits role, you’re left echoing Liotta’s continuous, “What going on?” But there’s no point in trying to answer that question. As soon as you leave the theater, the film has already faded into the darkness where the bad movies you’ve seen, but you can’t remember reside.