In their attempt to make a shoot-'em-up with a soul, ready-to-be-crowned action king Vin Diesel and director F. Gary Gray ("The Negotiator") wind up with a dark and handsome movie -- quite unfortunately titled "A Man Apart" -- that's less than exciting and only superficially deep.
As a DEA bad-ass on the war path against an anonymous drug kingpin who killed his wife -- something you know is coming the minute he stares lovingly into the eyes of a beautiful actress without any name recognition (Jacqueline Obradors) -- Diesel seems to have taken the part so he could dust off some of his emotional range without straying too far from his muscle-rippling, shaved-head, five-o'clock-shadow tough Guy-with-a-capital-G screen persona.
While he does sell his brokenheartedness, with the aid of some beautiful ocean-side sunsets in front of which he despondently holds his head in his hands, Diesel and Gray know that's not what the people pay to see -- so pass the ammo, baby! Several thunderous, chaotic, hard-to-follow shoot-outs are the picture's big set pieces.
One is a raid on a ritzy underground Tijuana nightclub, during which Diesel chases down and captures an escaping Baja cartel leader (Geno Silva) -- which opens the door for an anonymous apparent rival, known only as Diablo, to take over the border-running cocaine operation. Diablo's identity is supposed to be the movie's big mystery, but since there's only one other south-of-the-border character with a speaking role, it's almost impossible not to find yourself 10 steps ahead of the movie's hero by the end of the second reel.
Yet it wouldn't make much sense for Diablo, whose rise to power was made possible by Diesel's bust, to kill Diesel's wife in an ambush on their how-can-a-cop-afford-that beachfront home -- so it's pretty clear almost immediately that some big twist is waiting in the wings.
If that twist didn't leave a slew of unanswered questions in its wake -- about such fundamental plot point as why Diablo staged a violent take-over of the cartel in the first place and who ordered the murders of the cartel leader's wife and kid -- "A Man Apart" might have made up for its other shortcomings.
For instance, Gray and first-time screenwriters Christian Gudegast and Paul T. Scheuring put in an admirable effort toward fleshing out some of the film's stock characters. Unstoppable cop Diesel and partner Larenz Tate ("Biker Boyz," "love jones") have a strong, believable bond that dates back to their days growing up on the streets -- a background that provides them with a been-there edge and plenty of connections when they start working their way up the drug chain to find Diablo.
But with all its off-the-shelf plot developments (Diesel becomes a loose cannon, is forced to turn in his badge, and goes after Diablo on his own), and passé peripheral roles (Timothy Olyphant plays a Porsche-driving Beverly Hills whitebread middle-man Diesel beats up), "A Man Apart" fails to stand apart -- despite the cast and crew's serious stab at making a serious action movie.
Run time: 109 mins
In Theaters: Friday 4th April 2003
Box Office USA: $26.2M
Box Office Worldwide: $44.4M
Distributed by: New Line Cinema
Production compaines: Newman/Tooley Films, "DIA" Productions GmbH & Co. KG, Joseph Nittolo Entertainment, New Line Cinema
Contactmusic.com: 2 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 11%
Fresh: 14 Rotten: 116
IMDB: 6.1 / 10
Director: F. Gary Gray
Starring: Vin Diesel as Sean Vetter, Larenz Tate as Demetrius Hicks, Timothy Olyphant as Hollywood Jack, Geno Silva as Memo Lucero, Jacqueline Obradors as Stacy Vetter, Steve Eastin as Ty Frost, Juan Fernández as Mateo Santos, Jeff Kober as Pomona Joe, Marco Rodríguez as Hondo, Mike Moroff as Gustavo Leon, Emilio Rivera as Garza, George Sharperson as Big Sexy, Malieek Straughter as Overdose, Alice Amter as Marta, Jim Boeke as Bad Cop
Also starring: Juan Fernandez
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