A Man Apart

(2003) * 1/2 R
110 min. New Line Cinema. Director: F Gary Gray. Cast: Vin Diesel, Larenz Tate, Timothy Olyphant, Geno Silva, Jacqueline Obradors.

The Vin Diesel vehicle A Man Apart recalls the scores of generic actioners of the '80s--the muscle-bound good guy pushed over the edge takes on the drug trade which cost him his a) partner, b) wife, c) toy poodle, or d) all of the above. You know it will probably involve a scene in which the hero turns in his badge and his gun and many scenes involving cocaine factories, explosive blasts, and AK-47s. In fulfilling (but never transcending) these expectations, A Man Apart can only be called a competent but boring action thriller.

Diesel, the film's best asset, emotes convincingly at each reversal in the plot. Unfortunately, as DEA agent Sean Vetter, he's saddled with an unintentionally funny, serious-as-a-heart-attack narration. Things get especially serious when, following Vetter's single-handed apprehension of druglord Meno Lucero (Geno Silva), Vetter's wife becomes collateral damage (sort of like in that movie Collateral Damage). With Lucero behind bars, Vetter discovers the man he's after is Lucero's would-be successor, who, in a master stroke of originality, calls himself "Diablo."

A Man Apart was at one time known as Diablo, El Diablo, This Man's Dominion, and, of course, Untitled Vin Diesel Project. I prefer the latter, as this is the sort of project which invites one to look at it as a mass-marketed product. Though white folks are welcome to spend their dollars, the casting of lily-white Timothy Olyphant as an ultra-smarmy nemesis brings to mind the similar casting of Stephen Dorff in Blade and Christian Bale in Shaft, all seemingly crafty casting decisions for what's known euphemistically as the "urban" demographic.

No demographic study can explain the continual casting of always wounded, baby-faced Larenz Tate, who plays Diesel's partner, but one can instead focus on the comic-relief hijinks of shady mercenary Big Sexy (George Sharperson) and his amazing drug-sniffing chihuahua. That such "comic" relief comes quickly on the heels of a darkly emotional scene gives off a whiff of director F. Gary Gray's desperation to make something, anything, connect with the audience.

The youngish Gray previously helmed Friday and The Negotiator, and his movie upbringing seems imprinted on every frame of the familiar A Man Apart. For the druglord's estate, Gray seems to duplicate exactly the floorplan of Al Pacino's palace in Scarface. At least Gray keeps the action rough and intense, with Diesel's Vetter unable to keep his cool. But can anyone explain to me why, long after it would seem efficacious, Vetter keeps returning to visit Lucero in the federal prison chapel? Like Hannibal Lecter crossed with Mr. Miyagi, Lucero doles out advice: to get a monster, "you must become a monster." Take that, Dr. Phil.

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