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IN SHORT: Lots of parts that don't fit is more like it. [Rated R for Strong Graphic Violence, Language, Drug Content and Sexuality. 109 minutes]
There used to be a time in our life when two knock down drag out gun battles and a whole mess of associated gore and spilling blood were enough to keep our interest up, even when the script let us down?" That time was a very long time ago.
Can a man love his wife so much that he would turn his back on his friends and allies to side with his most hated enemy? We're talking movies, folks. You know he can. The better and more important question is . . . will you believe it when you see it on the big screen? Actually, there's a bigger question that can be applied to A Man Apart, one muttered on the way out by every critic who planted in the screening room with us: "What the hell was that?" We'll come back to this in a bit.
First, though, let us say how much we've come to like Vin Diesel's movie work. Even if we don't like the project, Diesel is as much fun to watch as, say, a very rough around the edges Travolta-type. This time out, not even he can save this hunk a junk -- a script that assumes the audience will intrinsically know all the background information that it buries so deep and so late in the action that it fails to impress as it should and directorial decisions that we flat out didn't believe what we were seeing on screen.
It doesn't begin like that. A Man Apart begins like a gritty undercover cop flick, down Mexico way with undercover DEA Agents Sean Vetter (Vin Diesel) and Demetrius Hicks (Larenz Tate) teaming with other Feds and the elite of Mexico's cop squads to take down the Godfather of the Mexican drug cartel, Guillermo "Memo" Lucero (Geno Silva). Vetter and Hicks have been undercover for seven years, tracking a man who never sleeps in the same place twice and who has never stood still long enough for a long range camera to get a good snapshot. This night, in this scene, Memo is about to go down for the count. Except that the local uber-boss tells our heroes, "no guns."
Every Vin Diesel fan in our audience, ourselves included, broke out in big grins when that line came a floating out of the speakers on the wall. Every Vin Diesel fan knows exactly what will come next. It does. It is a wonderful action and bullet filled sequence. As he is being hauled off to the slammer, Memo delivers a subtle warning to the still masked Vetter and then A Man Apart heads right down the crapper.
Vetter throws a big celebratory party at the beach house he shares with the love of his life, Stacy (Jacqueline Obradors). His cop buddies are there. Some obvious gangsta types show up, wondering why everyone else is dressed like a cop -- and here the script starts assuming that you've figured out that Vetter used to be a gangsta type, saved only by the love of his good woman. Stacy makes a veiled reference to this but the script waits until the third act to explain it to all the males watching the girls in their bikinis party. Down in Mexico, a new Kingpin is destroying Memo's old drug running organization. Lots of killing. Lots of Mayhem. And soon, back in the States, lots of revenge as masked gunmen break into Vetter's home to shoot everybody dead. 911 is called and director F. Gary Gray (we're guessing here) told Vin Diesel to shut his trap and emote. Forget that his character is a top grade cop. Forget that barking out anything akin to officer down is second nature. Forget that Vin Diesel is one of those tough guy actors who can act and emote simultaneously.
But wait, it gets worse. About a third of the way in to A Man Apart a scene transition and gun battle occurs that immediately made us snap to attention. Simply, it made no sense. If we had written down a detailed description of the where and when, we would have missed the rest of the film which, when all is said and done, would have been a good thing.
While tracking his wife's killer, Vetter must start at the bottom and work his way back up the trail of the new cartel -- we've all learned that the new guy, "Diablo" has wiped out all traces and bodies of Memo's organization. That means Gray attempts to lay out an epic story on top of the revenge story on top of that silly bit we laid out in the second paragraph. Whipping all around the California and Mexican coast, each scene gets its own subtitle to tell you where you are. Dozens of minor characters flit through each scene, so many that by the time any of them emerge as significant, we'd already forgotten who they were and how they fit in this epic mess. Add to all of that, Vetter's mental disintegration as he fails to crack the case and nail his wife's murderer again and again and again.
When he does, what follows is at first logical and then nothing but a set up for a surprise ending that makes no sense at all.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Ten Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to A Man Apart, he would have paid . . .
A Man Apart is a film that should be set apart; a film that makes so little sense that it should be sent off to wander in the wilderness until whatever the hell is infecting it with ridiculousness burns itself out. Of course, film doesn't work that way so you'd be better off keeping your ten bucks in your pocket. Leave this one to die a fast, unwatched death.
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