A Man Apart
Grade: C-
Year: 2003
Director: F. Gary Gray
Writer: Christian Gudegast
Genre: Action/Drama
Rated: R
By Scott Spicciati

Filmed before the better (although not by much) movie, "XXX," A Man Apart" is Vin Diesel's latest showcase of muscle and attitude in his never-ending quest to find a more intelligent screenplay so audiences will respect him more as an actor rather than action-star. "A Man Apart" is being marketed as a sophisticated drama, but the end product doesn't come close.

Sean Vetter (Diesel) is a hard-headed Los Angeles DEA officer at the top of his game. He explains that because hew grew up with the gangbangers, he has a natural ability to combat them as a cop. This is sort of like the 'It takes a thief to catch a thief' premise, only this movie has no formula to follow. And because he never liked cops growing up as a kid, he naturally doesn't associate with them in the office, with the exception of his own unit and partner, Demetrius Hicks (Larenz Tate). This has underdeveloped written all over it.

Speaking of underdevelopment, nothing suffers more than the characters. Here is a semi semi-spoiler that really isn't a spoiler because what I'm about to mention in the next paragraph has already been given away in the trailer. Plus, the following event is what sends Sean on his murderous 'vendetter.'

Early on we meet Vetter's beautiful wife, Stacey (Jacqueline Obradors). As shameful as this may sound, I couldn't wait for her to exit this film. Stacey is one of those action-hero wives. There's a rule about action-hero wives, and it isn't good. It's much better to be the sexy double-agent, daughter of the villain, or the helpless damsel with a hidden knowledge of martial arts. Why? Because all of those character-types end up falling in love with the action-star and marries him after the nuclear bomb has been disabled. But when you're the wife, you're days are numbered. We see how romantic Sean and Stacey are together. They dance on the beach, make love in the sand, and do all that stuff that proves how perfect they are for each other. So when Stacey eventually takes the bullet, I guess we're supposed to react in horror. But this theme is stretched so far beyond reasoning that it's funny. Take Stacey's hobby for example--she's a candle-maker who gives away candles as gifts to all of Vetter's DEA buddies.

Just when you thought it didn't get any worse, we eventually get to hear their answering machine message; delivered by Stacey of course, and she is interrupted during the part where she says "leave a message" because Sean is distracting her in the background. This character was so poorly done that by the time Sean gets out of the hospital from injuries during the fatal ambush, Stacey is already six-feet under--no service and no memorial. Sean didn't even get a say in the tombstone selection.

Vetter must now seek revenge against the drug lords responsible for his wife's death. He and Hicks have been battling a major drug cartel funneling cocaine from Mexico to Los Angeles for the last seven years. They finally capture the kingpin, Memo (Geno Silva), at a Mexico nightclub. The cartel retaliates in an assault that eventually kills Stacey in a fuzzy scene that I somewhat mentioned above.

Now that Meno is out of the equation, for now at least, a new guy named Diablo has taken over and has decided to speed up the funneling process by starting a huge drug push that calls for a major cocaine shipment.

Because Stacey is now dead, Sean has a license to kill and takes full advantage of it. He shows no regard for the rules, as he damages cars and property just to get people to talk, and this is before he is told to take a vacation. We see him rough-up a bunch of suspects and he even beats a man to death with his fists because one of them makes a derogatory comment about his wife.

The scene where Vetter and his team raid the club to capture Memo is one that makes no sense at all. The team is expected to do this without guns. "You expect us to go into a building full of drunken cartel gunmen unarmed?" asks Vetter. When the boss isn't looking, Vetter conceals a weapon and so does the rest of the team. This is a smart move because everyone in the club pulls out automatic weapons as soon as they see the DEA agents. What was the point of telling them not to use their weapons?

As for the directing, F. Gary Gray (The Negotiator, The Italian Job) shows little control here, especially during some of the battle scenes. We never know whose side about half of the gunmen are on, and we are never told why some of the characters' family members are assassinated. Is it to show how evil the bad guys are? There are many more unanswered questions, like: How come Vetter lives in luxurious beachfront home while his partner lives a lower-middle class neighborhood? How come Vetter's home is marked with police tape after the accident through the entire movie? Shouldn't the broken glass have been cleaned up by now?

In other scenes, random people start shooting at each other for no explained reason. More cars explode and bodies continually hit the ground. Then there's one where he plays Russian roulette with a nameless thug just to get him to talk.

"A Man Apart" is just another typical Vin Diesel action movie. It is being marketed as somewhat of an elegant feature where Diesel shines in a breakthrough dramatic role, but here he is just a more serious version of "XXX's" Xander Cage. I see potential in Diesel, but because of his strong desire to be someone he has never been before, it was clear that he tried too hard in this one. For as long as he makes movies like this and "XXX," Diesel will be stuck with the brainless roles.

"A Man Apart" is a major mess without any kind of climax or satisfying resolution. There are so many unnecessary explosions, gun battles, and sewer chases, that it all becomes one giant blur in the end. You know when an action movie has become so dull and uninteresting that when you see a car blow up, you don't why it happened nor do you care to know. The best line in the movie comes when Vetter is at his wife's grave and says in poetic fashion, "Don't watch me," a warning that he is about to do some bad things to bad people. Too bad this line is only heard in the trailer, then again it is too good for the full length feature.

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Copyright 2003. All rights reserved. Contact Editor: Scott Spicciati