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Slow Burn
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by Jack Sommersby

"Has All the Heat of a Deep Freezer"
1 stars

If you want a truly outstanding crime tale set in Palm Springs, try James Foley's extraordinary "After Dark, My Sweet" instead.

The enormously talented Eric Roberts is wasted in Slow Burn, a lethargic crime drama that offers up uninteresting characters and a stale storyline that will leave you checking your watch in between yawns. Roberts plays Jacob Asch, a former investigative reporter who’s been living off his vapid, wealthy girlfriend the last couple of years; breaking loose of her and severing his financial security, he’s hard up for money and takes up an offer from a former lover whose successful artist boyfriend wishes to locate his twelve-year-old son from a marriage he ran out on before the kid was born. The last reported sight of the son and his mother is in Palm Springs, so Asch drives out there in his beat-up Mercedes and (inanely) informs us via voiceover, “As much as he needed to locate his past, I needed to locate my future.” He does manage to locate the mother, Laine Fleischer (Beverly D’Angelo), who’s remarried a prosperous businessman and lives in a luxurious mansion along with a fifteen-year-old stepchild, but no natural son -- he died along ago in a car accident because Laine fell asleep at the wheel. When Jacob returns to Los Angeles, the artist takes the bad news out on Jacob by punching him out during the middle of his well-attended gallery reception; and right when Jacob is wanting to put all this behind him he gets a call from the Palm Springs police that the stepson has been kidnapped for a million-dollar ransom, and with the artist the number-one suspect and Jacob having a recent affiliation with him, the police want some pertinent questions answered. From here the movie is one red herring, one unremarkable plot twist after another, and rather than fluidly progressing and carrying us along with a tantalizing story, the proceedings limp along with all the immediacy of a high-school detention period. And it doesn’t help that Roberts, our protagonist who should be enveloping us in his character’s plight, gives an unaccountably somnolent performance. For those who saw his alacritous work in Star 80, The Pope of Greenwich Village and Runaway Train, and even his subdued underplaying in Raggedy Man and The Coca-Cola Kid, know he can be a vital, invaluable screen performer, but the writing doesn’t give him the underpinnings he needs, and Roberts doesn’t do much to give to rise above the shopworn material. It’s fairly obvious to those who’ve seen all of five movies of this type who the ultimate culprit is, which is made even more obvious by the fact that the actress who has second billing wouldn’t be in the movie unless her character served a truly relevant function. The inept director Matthew Chapman, also serving as the screenwriter in adapting a novel by Arthur Lyons, and who penned the ludicrous psychological thrillers Consenting Adults and Color of Night, neither shapes his sequences nor gets enough atmosphere going -- the movie has been so blandly engineered your eyes glaze over just from trying to stay even remotely involved in it. And it culminates in a frustratingly unsatisfying anti-climax, as if the projectionist had inadvertently switched up the reels. Slow Burn lacks compression and ingenuity, not to mention ratiocination so the plot would make at least some semblances of sense. It’s the ultimate in neurasthenic-noir.

Not a little-seen movie worthy of rediscovery.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=29136&reviewer=327
originally posted: 05/28/15 09:10:27
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  29-Jun-1986 (R)

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