Case Number 03251


New Line // 2003 // 105 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Michael Rankins (Retired) // September 2nd, 2003

The Charge

When they took his love, they took his life. Now he's taking it back.

Opening Statement

When originally conceived, this movie was titled Diablo. It's true what they say -- the devil is in the details.

Facts of the Case

DEA agent Sean Vetter (Vin Diesel, xXx, Pitch Black) has come a long way from the mean streets where he and best pal Demetrius Hicks (Larenz Tate, Why Do Fools Fall in Love?, Biker Boyz) grew up. Now he and Demetrius are both respected law enforcement officers and partners, both happily married -- Sean to the fetching Stacy (Jacqueline Obradors, Tortilla Soup, TV's NYPD Blue) -- and they've just scored the biggest bust of their careers, bringing down legendary drug kingpin Memo Lucero (Geno Silva, Mulholland Dr., Amistad), whom they've been hounding without success for the past seven years.

Lucero warns that his incarceration will spawn consequences, and so it does. A mysterious, ruthless competitor known only as "Diablo" begins horning in on Memo's old turf, slaughtering his dealers and making having of his distribution network. When Sean and Demetrius turn their sights from Lucero to this fearsome new threat, Diablo sends a warning they can't help but notice -- his henchmen murder Stacy in the Vetters' idyllic beachfront home.

His perfect life unraveling before his eyes, Sean goes undercover with Demetrius to ferret out the identity of the man behind Stacy's death. As they work their way up the narcotic food chain, the boys cross paths with their boyhood chum turned confidential informant Big Sexy (George Sharperson, Showtime), an Aryan Brotherhood thug known as Pomona Joe (Jeff Kober, Enough), and a sleazy Beverly Hills hairdresser-slash-wannabe druglord, Hollywood Jack (Timothy Olyphant from Dreamcatcher, probably wondering why his character isn't called "Beverly Hills Jack"). But Sean's emotional instability and hair-trigger temper forces his boss, Frost (Steve Eastin, Catch Me If You Can), to suspend him as a danger to the public, his fellow agents, and himself.

Stripped of his gun and badge, Sean is left to continue his vendetta as (violins swell) a man apart.

The Evidence

If New Line Pictures had to change the title of this movie (and they did, to avoid legal fireworks and a potentially costly judgment being awarded to Blizzard Entertainment, the makers of the Diablo video game), a better one might have been Déjà Vu All Over Again. What makes A Man Apart such a lackluster viewing experience is not its inherent awfulness -- some of it is, in fact, rather decent -- but the fact that anyone who's seen more than a handful of action flicks over the past three decades has seen this tired tale in a dozen permutations far too many times before: Good guy poses threat to bad guy, bad guy kills good guy's wife/girlfriend/family member/partner, good guy spends rest of movie on quest for revenge. Yawn. Wonder what's in the fridge?

Now, Hollywood's been known to dredge up old storylines again and again, and occasionally mine repeat gold out of a recycled chestnut. But that cinematic miracle usually requires some kind of fresh twist or innovative perspective on the tried and true, and that simply didn't happen here. First-time screenwriters Christian Gudegast and Paul Scheuring might as well have punched out this script with one of those film scenario software programs. If they did, they got stuck with a buggy copy, because there's a lot of detritus rattling around in here that simply makes no sense. This is the kind of movie wherein characters keep doing stupid things for incomprehensible reasons, and the viewer is left scratching his or her head wondering what the diablo is going on. The film's abrupt, confusing ending, especially, resembles that old joke about the brain surgeon who steps out for coffee in the middle of an operation, only to have his patient wander off while he's sipping his latte -- what were the scribes possibly thinking when they concocted this bankrupt exit? Your Gudegast is as Gudegast as mine.

Director F. Gary Gray knows his way around the action blockbuster, and has delivered some top-quality goods in this area of late (see this summer's surprise megahit remake of The Italian Job for the complete skinny). With A Man Apart, Gray's simply marking time until a better script falls into his mitts. His technique is, as always, impressive, and he and veteran cinematographer Jack N. Green (who's been behind the camera for many of Clint Eastwood's latter-day features, and even garnered an Oscar nomination for Unforgiven) have a nice synergy and share a common eye for straight-ahead, uncomplicated visuals, but Gray hasn't much to work with in this instance.

For this picture to fly, star Vin Diesel needed to yank a stellar performance out of his hat. But apparently the gravel-toned one left that hat in his other suitcase. For a man wrestling with a tsunami of inner turmoil, Diesel seems awfully measured here. In fact, in the pivotal scene where he cradles his dying wife in his arms while the 911 operator on the other end of the phone connection desperately tries to determine the nature of his emergency, Big Vinnie might as well be dialing in for a large pepperoni with 'shrooms for all the emotion he displays.

The rest of the cast submits creditable but unspectacular performances. Larenz Tate, usually an entertaining presence, can't accomplish much with the cookie-cutter buddy role written for him. As the cocaine capo, Geno Silva appears perpetually on the verge of nodding off. Timothy Olyphant has a handful of fun moments with his scumball character, as does George Sharperson as the charmingly nicknamed Big Sexy (hey, I didn't even know they had a role based on me in this film...). Jacqueline Obradors is suitably luminous in her cameo as the star-crossed wife. (Did you ever notice that homely wives never get knocked off in revenge pictures? Let that be a lesson to you single fellows -- looks never last.)

If you enjoy the action genre, watching A Man Apart won't kill you. Director Gray keeps the pace flowing ahead, even though the picture doesn't end up anywhere surprising or even mildly intriguing. It's professionally photographed, competently acted despite the somnambulant lead performance by the Petrochemical King, and makes not a whit of logical sense, which one suspects isn't a new experience for you thrillseekers. But I could think of a thousand more entertaining ways of spending $36 million. I'm betting you could, too.

New Line apparently didn't have high hopes for A Man Apart either. Not only did they leave the theatrical release moldering in the basement for months before throwing it to the wolves with a kiss-of-death early spring release, but they also lavished precious little love on the DVD project. Considering that these are the same folks that keep wowing us with their work on the Lord of the Rings packages as well as the Infinifilm special-edition imprint, it's obvious that the New Line crew just wanted to sneak this turkey out the door and into your local video store before anyone was paying attention.

The film itself fares very nicely, thank you, with a crisp anamorphic transfer offering near-perfect clarity and color. Aside from a few instances of grain that appear to be artifacts of the original print, this is a flawless reproduction, with sharp contrast even in the numerous darker scenes and only a minimal smattering of edge enhancement in daylight sequences.

The audio presentation is every bit as good. This track rocks, with thunderous bass supplementing the de rigeur gunfire and explosions, and broad, effective surround separation. In a few random spots, the dialogue would have benefited from a tad more juice, but in all, a worthy listening experience.

But the gravy train pretty much stops there. Seven deleted scenes, which can be viewed individually or in play-all mode, are the only featured extras. Watching these adds little to the film, as these are mostly cuts of unnecessary filler that were excised to goose the pacing. Toss in the film's theatrical trailer, add a pair of promos for Run Ronnie Run and Highwaymen (strung together in sequence so you have to watch 'em both -- tricky devils!), and we're outta here. That is, unless you want to stick around the now-familiar New Line DVD credits Easter egg and a DVD-ROM link to the New Line website. In which case, have at thee.

The Rebuttal Witnesses

A warning to the Vinmeister: another stolid performance or two like this one, and that'll be Steven Seagal on the line, demanding his talent back.

Closing Statement

Revenge, they say, is a dish best served cold. I don't think they meant quite this cold.

This Diesel's a few gallons short of a full tank. You probably enjoyed this rehashed vendetta plot more the last fifteen times you saw it. Fans of F. Gary Gray's directorial work should hold out for the DVD release of The Italian Job. Fans of Vin Diesel (and all three of you know who you are) should go back and give Pitch Black another spin. Fans of exciting, logical action movies should check on what's on cable tonight.

The Verdict

The Judge finds A Man Apart guilty of pointless regurgitation and Swiss-cheese scripting, and sentences it to solitary confinement. In addition, Vin Diesel -- the man with the silliest nom de cinema since Rip Torn -- is ordered to seek clinical evaluation for suspected narcolepsy. We're adjourned.

Review content copyright © 2003 Michael Rankins; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2016 HipClick Designs LLC

Scales of Justice
Video: 93
Audio: 89
Extras: 20
Acting: 78
Story: 69
Judgment: 73

Perp Profile
Studio: New Line
Video Formats:
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)

* None

Running Time: 105 Minutes
Release Year: 2003
MPAA Rating: Rated R

Distinguishing Marks
* Seven Deleted Scenes
* Theatrical Trailer
* Bonus Trailers
* DVD-ROM Web Link
* DVD Credits

* IMDb

* Official Site