More noise than signal

A Man Apart

This review has been ‘repurposed’ from my other site, theOneliner.com

The Hollywood hit factory seems desperate to elevate Vin Diesel to megastar status and are going to keep telling us he is until we believe it. I’ve nothing against the man but they seem to be pushing him as the replacement Bruce Willis and he pales in comparison, so far just not displaying enough charisma. Probably more the fault of the roles he’s chosen, after playing a relatively interesting anti-hero in Pitch Black he’s played essentially the same vapid gen-x stereotype in The Fast And The Furious and xXx. I was hoping to see a little more range from him in this cop-gone-avenger flick however with a script seemingly produced by the Automatic Thriller Generator (all the clich?s or your money back), it’s wasn’t to be.

Sean Vetter (Vin Diesel) doesn’t start the film as a man apart from anything. He’s a gung-ho take-no-prisoners tough-as-old-boots hardass cop in the D.E.A, like Dirty Harry but from ‘the streets’. He’s put his formative days as a gangsta behind him to serve the public trust and dote on his beautiful wife. Life is good. He’s just finished a seven year investigation into a leading drug cartel, arresting drug baron Meno (Geno Silva) in a joint operation with his Mexican counterparts.

Meno takes exception to this, threatening teach him the error of his ways as he’s hauled off to an American jail. Vetter returns home, having a celebratory barbecue presumably to add some characterisation to our leads although they pander doggedly to stereotypes. His partner, Demetrius (Larenz Tate) is in many ways similar to Sean, beautiful wife, adoring child, devoted to family and job, similarly ‘down with the streets’. Their buddy, still in the armed gang business is named Big Sexy and embodies every gangster stereotype from the bling bling necklaces to the barely comprehensible ‘street talk’. Given how his character has been set up it would be remiss of me not to point out that Vin Diesel doesn’t seem to comfortable when having to bust out the ‘homes’ and ‘hizziz’ style of speech. This may be a plus point if the laughable dialogue of Cradle 2 The Grave is anything to go by, and it’s rarely seen outside of this scene.

That night two assassins launch an assault on his house. Vedder survives, destroying the assassins but not before they kill his wife. He’s taken a bullet, and seems to be out of the game for a few weeks, judging by his beard. When he comes to, his wife has already been buried and he’s understandably distraught, prompting much staring out into the sea and looking moody. He visits the slammer to question Meno, but he swears he had nothing to do with it. Only one thing for it then, start your own investigation working from the bottom up.

Acting on a tip off from Sexy, Vetter and Demetrius shake down a small time drugs dealer, Vetter eventually getting the name of his supplier out of him after some more extreme than normal, revolver aided questioning. He gives the name of Hollywood Jack (Timothy Olyphant), an exceptionally annoying character peddling gay stereotypes as though enough weren’t crammed in already. They can’t threaten any information out of him as they really have nothing to use against him.

Meanwhile, the gang that they’re investigating run by someone called Diablo has been taking over Meno’s turf, in the process killing Meno’s wife and child. He now agrees to help Vetter under the tired ‘common enemies’ banner, tipping him off to a chap higher up the Diablo food chain. Diesel uses the D.E.A’s money (with permission from the chief, which is an opportunity missed if you’re playing for the ‘cop on the edge’ character) to set up a drug deal. It’s going fine until the guy making the switch on the Diablo’s side claims to be one of assassins that took part in the raid on Vetter’s house, although he doesn’t recognise him if that’s the case. Vetter beats him to death, prompting a huge firefight between D.E.A agents and the Diablos. With three cops dead because of his screw-up, the Captain has no choice but to drum him out if the force, prompting much staring out into the sea and looking moody.

This doesn’t stop Vetter, teaming up with his old gang buddies under Big Sexy to get answers the old fashioned way, with heavy weapons. They destroy the remnants of the Diablos that were part of the drug deal with some nifty miniguns, before using Hollywood Jack to trace the mysterious Diablo back to his base in Mexico, then giving the baron his comeuppance. Of course, it’s slightly more complex than that on screen but for a recap it reduces to Vetter kills all Diablos, The End.

It’s a cinematic magpie, stealing themes and ideas from Training Day, Traffic, Narc and a million other films since the dawn of time. A Man Apart never manages to make the whole greater than the sum of it’s parts however. The plot isn’t too disgraceful but too light on detail to provide much interest in it. The action scenes are fairly well handled, although there’s quite a lot of the goons with automatic weapons emptying clip after clip into a small area and still missing the heroes, which is my only real gripe. Other than that what few scenes rely on pure action are neatly done.

The main problem is partly Vin Diesel himself, and also the underwritten script. The films central premise is really supposed to be the slow descent of Vetter from a cop close to the edge through one dangling well over the edge to vengeance driven vigilante. The script never puts any of this Diesel’s way, and really the only noticeable change in character comes from a few mild flashes of anger and the beating that results in him being drummed out of the force. These events aside all Diesel does is look moody and stare into the middle distance, then get tooled up for an action finale. Because I could never feel much of a change in character anyway once Vetter makes his peace with the world and claims to understand what’s happened, there’s no catharsis, no release – a disappointing ending.

It’s actually Demetrius who makes the harder choices, covering for Vetter’s anger-driven mistakes and having to choose between possibly endangering his family (and certainly endangering himself) or turning his back on his friend, even though he’s crossed more lines than is healthy for him. This really makes him a more interesting character than Vetter, and Larenz Tate plays the part well.

F. Gary Gray directs well, and on occasion manages to pull off making the plot seem deeper than it really is through some well thought out shots and clever framing, although even he can’t resist dropping the occasional clich? in such as gunfights in a murky sewer. Still, there’s a fair sense of style throughout the movie, it’s a pity that there isn’t the substance to match it. Not a bad movie as such, more a mediocre one, which occasionally I find worst of all as it’s just so hard to care about it. I’d recommend viewing Narc over this, but it’ll keep the Diesel bandwagon rolling on until Riddick or whatever the Pitch Black prequel ends up getting called arrives.

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