Running into a midtown Manhattan screening room at 10:07 AM for a 10:00 AM showing of Zoo, a documentary on men who date horses, I was surprised to see Ray Liotta's face being projected. Had the actor, known for his charmingly irascible characterizations and his inability to turn down any role (e.g. Operation Dumbo Drop (1995)) developed a taste for four-legged creatures that didn't require riding them with a saddle?
I was to find out I was a week early for Zoo, and the film being showcased was Wayne Beach's directorial debut Slow Burn, a tribute of sorts to The Usual Suspects, soft-core love scenes on the Oxygen Channel, and B-movie film noir. Of course, some paeans are pains.
This muddled effort's convoluted plot begins with an intro to big-city district attorney Ford Cole (Liotta), who's running for mayor. However, within an hour and a half, the politico might just be dashing for an unemployment check. It appears Cole's stunning assistant district attorney, Nora Timmer (Jolene Blalock, pictured above with Liotta), has just fatally shot Isaac (Mekhi Phifer), a record store clerk, in her bed, apparently in self-defense. She claims he was raping her. However, the only sperm found within her privates belongs to Cole. Timmer explains it was a pre-orgasmic shooting.
Well, just as Cole is kissing Timmer's lovely hands to calm her down, Luther Pinks (LL Cool J) shows up at the D.A.'s office, claiming Nora is a murderess. Pinks, a former-cop-turned-record-store-clerk and consequently a close pal of Isaac's, says the assistant D.A. was having a long-term affair with his pal. This revelation irks Cole to no end, so he keeps running from the room with Pinks in it to the room with Timmer in it and then back again, hoping to ferret out the truth.
If this wasn't enough action, there's a black street gang, the Omens, running around committing dastardly crimes, plus a real-estate subplot about lower economic housing that has to be knocked down so some nasty white men who wear bow ties can make millions.
But in Slow Burn, nothing is as it seems. To found out the truth, though, you have to hang around to the last few minutes. To entertain you till then, you can contemplate the following lines of dialogue:
"The city smelled like grapefruit."
"Right now this place smells like roast beef. Burned roast beef."
"She stood there smelling like a tangerine, ripe and ready to peel."
"She walked in smelling like mashed potatoes, and every man around wanted to be the gravy."
"There she was: Mariah Carey smelling like a mango."
Lots of things, as you can tell, smell in this film: the directing, the screenplay, the editing, the cinematography, and much of the acting. Sadly, Perfume, a more appropriate title, had already been taken by a much better film, which is now on DVD. Try catching it... or better yet, read the engrossing novel by Peter Suskind. - Brandon Judell
Mr. Judell, who's currently teaching "The Image of the Jew in Post-World War II European Cinema" at City College, has written on film for The Village Voice, indieWire, Detour, and dozens of other publications.