After establishing himself as a semi-serious actor in “Saving Private Ryan” and “Boiler Room,” Vin Diesel has settled into a comfortable groove in a series of average action movies, playing the same slick, bald-headed bad-ass every time. Continuing right where he left off in “XXX,” Diesel takes on yet another action hero role in F. Gary Gray’s “A Man Apart.”
Diesel plays Sean Vetter, a Drug Enforcement Administration agent whose street-smarts gives him an edge as an undercover agent. The film opens with Vetter and partner Demetrius Hicks (Larenz Tate, “Menace II Society”) in Mexico working with the Mexican police to arrest a drug czar named Meno Lucera (Geno Silva, “The Lost World: Jurassic Park”). After Vetter, on foot, improbably chases down the car carrying Meno, the kingpin assures Vetter that things will only get worse.
Vetter then returns home to his loving wife, Stacey (Jacqueline Obradors, “Six Days, Seven Nights”). While they sleep hitmen contracted by someone named Diablo, sneak into their beachfront house and try to kill Vetter. While our hero escapes with a gunshot to the side – which he merely grimaces at for a second and then continues to fight – his wife is not so lucky. Caught in the crossfire, Stacey is killed.
With his wife’s death, Vetter is motivated to track down Diablo and put an end to his drug ring. He could have gone off alone, but with motivational and unintentionally humorous lines such as, “What would you do if she died?” Vetter is able to convince Hicks and some of his former crew to go along with him. Vetter never fully separates himself from anyone, not even in the anti-climactic and predictable end.
The scene shifts from over half a dozen locations – with no sense of where the current scene is in relation to where the last scene took place, unless one is vastly familiar with the drug pipeline.
Diesel’s Vetter is also a forgettable hero. He is a one-sided brute who knows nothing but force and anger – one scene of Vetter and his wife dancing on a beach as the sun sets does not make him some sort of sweetheart. His voice, which can range from the guttural to the creamy, is one of Diesel’s best acting tools and is vastly underused as he rages through the film’s two hours.
With drab locations and dull lead characters – Meno is the most boring drug lord ever – it falls to the secondary characters to carry the film.
Tate’s portrayal of Hicks and the love and concern he has for his wife and child vastly outshine the flat, bestial character of Vetter. The story is also helped along by characters such as the Gatling-gun toting Big Sexy (George Shaperson, “Double Take”) and the flamboyant salon owner/drug dealer Hollywood Jack (Timothy Olyphant, “Gone in 60 Seconds”).
It is fortunate that Vetter wasn’t all alone in this story, because with the uninteresting environments and poor development by the main characters, it is the secondary actors who make this film.