Screenwriter Wayne Beach's directing debut is a convoluted tale of race, real estate, false identities and the long reach of a gang lord so sly no one has a clue even what he looks like. To say that it owes a considerable debt to THE USUAL SUSPECTS (1995) would be an understatement, but it also borrows liberally from the conventions of soft-core erotic thrillers the kind whose titles invariably include words like "instincts" and "carnal."
Politically ambitious district attorney Ford Cole (Ray Liotta) is being interviewed by U.K. magazine writer Ty Trippin (Chiwetel Ejiofor) when he learns that his star ADA and lover, Nora Timmer (Jolene Blalock), has been arrested for killing record-store clerk Isaac Duperde (Mekhi Phifer). Nora says Duperde stalked her for a week before breaking into her home and raping her; she killed him in self-defense. Ford is getting ready to sweep the whole mess under the rug when a man called Luther Pinks (LL Cool J) demands to see him and spills a very different story about Nora and Isaac. Luther says they'd been dating for four months, and that Nora was also slipping Isaac hundred-dollar bills in hopes of getting a line on notorious gang leader Danny Luden. Ford has been trying to bring Luden down for years, but though Luden has a hand in everything from drug-dealing to slum real estate, no one outside his circle of criminal confidants has ever seen him. And there's more much, much more. At the heart of it is Luther's contention that the biracial Nora, who built her career on prosecuting gangbangers and giving back to the black community, isn't African American at all: She's a sick and twisted white girl playing some kind Machiavellian game in which Isaac was an unwitting pawn.
No one and nothing can be taken at face value in Beach's twisty tale of secrets and lies, which buries its very interesting idea in a welter of ludicrous dialogue and skin-flick imagery. Among his worst ideas is to make Luther the victim of a disorder that affects his sense of smell, the better for him to say things on the order of, "She walked in smelling like mashed potatoes, and every guy within 30 feet wanted to be the gravy." One line like that is distracting, but dozens will pull you right out of a film that's already juggling enough flashbacks, plot reversals and surprise reveals for a half-dozen thrillers. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh