The only thing worse than seeing a predictable, paint-by-numbers action movie is seeing it and walking out confused. The audience expects “boom!” “bang!” “pow!” and some gratuitous plot involving some nekkidness. Come to think of it, action films function much like porn, and it remains a well-known trademark of bad porn to incorporate too much damn story. Or any story, for that matter.
The side story to reviewing the most recent Vin Diesel action flick, “A Man Apart” is that it was actually made three years ago when Diesel was simply “That Bald/Buff Guy” from a list of semi-successful movies. He had yet to fondle Michelle Rodriguez’s ass in “The Fast and The Furious,” or smatter wholesome American theater marquees with signs for “XXX” (again, the porn connection). It’s pretty clear, after seeing the most recent Diesel vehicle, why the creative geniuses at New Line chose to shelve Director F. Gary Gray’s debacle of an action film until their lead had honed his money-raking chops.
The film centers on Sean Vetter (Diesel), a DEA agent who doesn’t play by the rules (read: he’s got a naughty streak) but loves his candle-making wife more than life itself. He and best bud/DEA agent Demetrius, played by Larenz Tate, pull off a sting operation seven years in the making that forces Colombian drug cartel leader, Memo (did you get the… never mind), to a life behind bars. But not before the evil moustached baddie can utter, “Both our lives will be worse for this.” Bulging, steroid-laden Diesel is shaking in his boots, we’re sure.
Sure enough, his life does get worse. His wife gets axed in a botched assassination attempt on Vetter, forcing him to seek revenge on the drug henchmen who stole his special lady away. It’s in this act of the film it seems the screenwriters decided to split a bottle of Jose Cuervo and keep typing. With Memo behind bars, a new, far more ruthless drug lord (who goes by “Diablo”) quickly begins taking over the Mexicali cocaine pipeline he once controlled. Seeking vengeance, Vetter and best bud make the rounds to what seems like every county south of San Luis Obispo, where they interact with a bevy of drug-circle types: A cracked-out dealer named “Overdose,” the blue-suede shoes wearing “Hollywood Jack,” the linebacker-sized “Big Sexy” and the list continues. Through desperate hunting, one sting operation gone very wrong and sprouting facial hair on the once clean-shaven Diesel, one is meant to infer that Vetter is becoming, well, “A Man Apart.” Ooohh, okaaay.
The greatest problems in this film lie 1) in the fact that there is never a moment where Diesel is appropriately threatened or even appears mildly antsy. Even the poorest action film knows that you have to rough your hero up a bit; make the audience chomp their nails for a second. Also, 2) the film’s climax is completely yawn-inspiring. In fact, be careful not to get something in your eye toward the end of the film, because it’s likely you’ll miss the peak action sequence with the bat of an eye.
Though the material is trademark studio bollocks, the acting is surprisingly well-done, including the soon to be “XXX 2” star, Diesel, who does actually breathe some life into a vacant, poorly sketched character. Instead of rummaging through the trashcans after the writers of “Traffic”(2000), it would have been wiser for New Line’s writers to think of something more jarring than sticking a beard on Vin Diesel for shock value. Or at least throw in a solid sex scene for porn-loving’s sake.