A Man Apart
starring Vin Diesel
2 1/2 stars

When is Vin Diesel gonna find a movie that's as good as he is? Consider Vin's three big movies: Pitch Black, The Fast and the Furious, and XXX. Each time out he's the best thing in the film. He's just got natural movie-star charisma, whether it's as wry monster-killin' sociopath Riddick in Pitch Black or as X-treme stuntman-activist-webcaster XXX in, well, XXX. He's tough, but he's got that big sloppy grin that makes you want to kick back and have a beer with him -- the perfect qualification for a movie star. 

And yet, somehow, Vin finds himself in these otherwise bland formula films that never rise to his level. I keep waiting to see that Vin Diesel movie where everybody -- not just Vin, but the writers and director and supporting cast, everybody-- brings their A game. That's gonna be a great movie when it finally shows up.

But it's not A Man Apart, sadly. And what's sadder is that Vin is one of the producers on the movie, so even though he's got the power to make these choices, he's not making the right ones. It's easy to see the appeal of the project --it's supposed to be a dark, gritty, meaty dramatic thing -- but almost from the opening of the movie the team starts to let Vin down.

First thing you notice is how you can't see anything. The film opens with Vin as a DEA Agent participating in a big cartel bust in Tijuana, and not only is everything muddy and dark, but the action scene unfolds with an unusually clumsy sense of physical space and bad editing. And then once that's all done and Vin has single-handedly captured the cartel leader, it's like the filmmakers go out of their way to clamp down on his charisma. We struggle to get a glimpse of him. Seriously, the movie can barely muster up enough light to illuminate both sides of Vin's face at once -- and he's not even A Man Apart yet. No, this is still when he's Mr. Happy-go-lucky, god-me-and-my-wife-are-so-in-love DEA Agent.

Also, somebody should have told Vin that when you're a cop and you and your wife lie in the back yard and go on and on about how happy you are, it's like painting a giant red target on your wife. And when the wife gets killed in the very next scene, it's hard not to take that as evidence of some pretty cheap writing. 

So, once Vin recovers from the assasination attempt that kills his wife, he's reborn as Apart-Man, or rather, a man apart, which means that he's a little more prone to threaten and beat on suspects, on account of how he's all grief-stricken. In other words, the grinning fun part of Vin's persona is turned off, but the supposed drama never really materializes. He spends the rest of the film brooding and being no fun at all as he chases after the new cartel guy, code-named "Diablo" (yeesh). It's pretty clumsy, poorly-lit stuff, though eventually they cut us a break and let us see Vin's face a couple of times.

The last third of the movie perks up a bit, with a couple of half-decent cameo characters (a slick/sleazy Hollywood drug buyer and a strikingly ugly drug goon), but then we hit those terrible, incoherent action scenes, and the air whistles out again. And then there's that whole belated sense that the film has nothing whatsoever to say, about drugs, or cops, or pain, or anything. Does anybody question the utter futility of going to all this trouble and effort and expense to nab these dealer guys considering how instantaneously their replacements appear? No. Does anybody ever tell Vin it would have been better if he'd kept his cool during that undercover drug buy instead of losing it and kicking some guy to death when he offhandedly mentions how he killed that famous cop's wife, thereby leading to a disastrous and hard-to-follow bloodbath? No. And then, after showing us that he really is losing it and that he shouldn't be a cop any more, does the movie turn around and reward his terrible policemanship with success? Yes. Dammit, Vin, you can do better than this!