Let there be no doubt in anyone’s mind. Vin Diesel is a badass. He has made a mighty nice living out of playing badass characters – from Riddick in Pitch Black to Xander Cage in XXX. And, yes, he does an excellent job opening up his case of whoop-a*s whenever he hits the screen. The problem with “A Man Apart” is that there is just too much badass going on.
The film has the not-so-subtle technique of a droning voice over explaining who the characters are and what they do. In the case of “A Man Apart,” Sean Vetter (Vin Diesel) and his cronies are DEA agents who have a special angle on the drug industry. They come from the streets, many of them being former addicts and dealers themselves. This is why they are so adept at busting the bad guys in the underworld.
The film opens with Vetter and Demetrius Hicks (Larenz Tate) down in Tijuana, Mexico, where they have Meno Lucero (Gino Silva), the biggest drug kingpin south of the border, cornered in a nightclub. In cahoots with the Mexican authorities, the American DEA agents burst in to make the bust. Of course, Meno hauls butt out the back of the bar, but Vetter is quickly on his tail. He makes the arrest and becomes a hero as Meno is set to be extradited to the U.S.
Vetter goes home a hero and returns to his young, hot wife in L.A. Of course, things aren’t all that calm on the home front. Meno, now in a federal U.S. prison, continues to keep in contact with his cronies down in Mexico. Apparently, there’s a new drug lord named El Diablo who’s trying to gobble up all of Meno’s business.
One night, Vetter and his wife Stacy (Jacqueline Obradors, whom you’ll recognize as the latina hottie that deflowered David Schwimmer in Six Days, Seven Night) are asleep in bed. Several masked men burst in and spray the bedroom with machine gun fire. Vetter manages to kill the assailants, but not before he takes a bullet to the ribs himself. When he hobbles back to Stacy, he finds her with a fatal gunshot wound.
The rest of the film rumbles ahead with a revenge plot as Vetter swears to make “them” pay. The only problem is that he doesn’t quite know who “them” is. He visits Meno in prison and confronts the drug lord, but soon learns that it was probably El Diablo who ordered the hit. Vetter uses his connections in the DEA to track down El Diablo, and when it gets too messy for the feds, he goes it alone.
If only the drama of the film matched the drama behind the scenes. When director F. Gary Gray finished principle photography more than two years ago, the original title was “El Diablo.” However, Blizzard Entertainment game manufacturer sued New Line on the grounds that the film stole the plotline from their latest game “Diablo.” What ensued was a two-year battle to secure the rights to release the film and use the name. Obviously New Line lost the name battle. (Personally, I think “El Diablo” is a much cooler name, but I imagine that Goldmember was more important for New Line to fight for).
The funniest thing about the series of delays that plagued “A Man Apart” is that it seems like something an actor would try to release at this point in Diesel’s career. While he had The Fast and the Furious and Pitch Black under his belt, Diesel only really became a superstar last year when XXX cleaned up at the box office. This is exactly the kind of movie a superstar makes to prove they’re a real actor. But it was made two years ago.
Another problem behind the scenes was that top executives did not like the original ending and ordered it reshot without Gray at the helm. This story waffling is pretty apparent in the end of the film, which has an wrap-up that is a little too neat for how gritty the rest of the film is.
Diesel does a commendable acting job, bringing through the pain and emotion, letting it eat away at the character inside. Unfortunately, the plot is so heavy and dark that it becomes uncomfortable. The structure of the character dwindles from about mid-point in the film, and Vetter never fully emerges from his pain. There is no triumph in spirit, even though I kept wanting to see it happen.
“A Man Apart” falls into the schizophrenic trap that so many films do. It really can’t decide what it wants to be. Is it an action film? Not really because the action sequences are sporadic and not very stylized. Is it a buddy cop film? Not really because Diesel and Tate’s chemistry is pretty poor, leaving Tate’s character lost in the dust. Is it a gripping drama? Not really because it just has waaaaaay too much testosterone.
This film is going to be a blip on Vin Diesel’s career and like “Knockaround Guys” and Boiler Room, it really won’t help him in the long term. Of course, it probably won’t do much damage either.