In `Man Apart,' bullets have starring role

April 04, 2003|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,SUN MOVIE CRITIC

Apart from what? one might ask.

The man referred to is Vin Diesel, and the movie he stars in ain't apart from nothing - at least not in the sense that it's unique, or stands alone, or outshines everything else around it. A Man Apart is standard-bore action stuff, in which a macho stud superstar blows away lots of bad guys while struggling to make the world a better place. And if the title is supposed to suggest that Vin's character is a man standing alone, why does he spend so much time and effort making his friends complicit in the vengeance-is-mine adventure that serves as the movie's centerpiece?

Sigh. Is there some rule that brawny, basso profundo-voiced action stars can appear only in films with flimsy plots, stock characters and huge budget lines for fake bullets? Where could one go to get that rule repealed?

Diesel is Sean Vetter, a Los Angeles street-tough who grew up to take the road less traveled; he stayed on the right side of the law, joining the DEA and partnering with his dog (that's street parlance for compadre, or good, faithful pal), Demetrius Hicks (Larenz Tate), to rid L.A. of drugs and drug pushers. For seven years, they have been after the exceedingly nasty Mexican drug kingpin Memo Lucero (Geno Silva), and the movie opens with them finally taking him down, as he's partying with a bunch of scantily clad dancers in a seedy Tijuana nightclub.

A lot of innocent people become collateral damage in A Man Apart; such is the price of getting the bad guys in this strange world of movie justice. Wanna guess what would happen if DEA agents really opened fire inside a nightclub while pursuing their quarry? Wanna bet some heads would roll?

So, Memo's off the street, but now a new contestant for the job of kingpin has started making noise. Known only as El Diablo, he's a truly nasty piece of work. His competitors start dying violent deaths, and his enemies suffer even worse. That includes Vetter, who loses his beloved wife during an assassination attempt at the couple's oceanside home (seems DEA agents are paid better than we think).

And so Vetter is out for blood, vowing to bring down El Diablo - even if it means allying himself with Memo. And it doesn't matter to him if half the other DEA agents in L.A. are killed in the process.

The truly sad thing about all this is that Diesel deserves better; he's an undeniable presence on-screen, an unstable, walking vengeance demon with a smile that can be alternately reassuring or terrifying. And he's not a one-note actor, in the grand tradition of Stallone, Seagal, Van Damme et al.

But A Man Apart lets him down at nearly every turn. Just about everything that happens in the movie can be predicted at least a few scenes in advance, and Vetter's determination to take down those who did him wrong is just an excuse for lots of flying bullets and dark, cramped passageways where danger is always lurking ... somewhere (not that we ever get a good look at it, but it's there).

The whole thing ends ludicrously, with a final confrontation that stretches credibility way past the breaking point. And then the movie wraps up with a tacked-on, tear-jerking coda that will move no one, save those in the audience looking for a way out.

A Man Apart

Starring Vin Diesel, Larenz Tate

Directed by F. Gary Gray

Rated R (language, violence, sexual situations)

Released by New Line Cinema

Time 109 minutes

Sun score **

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