Sunday, April 3, 2011


You might not recognize the name F. Gary Gray, the director of this movie, but you've probably seen one or two of his movies. You might remember "Friday" starring Ice Cube and Chris Tucker, the awesome "The Negotiatior" with Samuel L. Jackson and Kevin Spacey, or the female bank-robber movie "Set it Off". Or even his recent shamelessly derivative, yet strangely attractive "Law Abiding Citizen" which pitted Gerard Butler against Jamie Foxx. He's even set to direct the "Kane and Lynch" videogame adaptation in the near future. What you may not know, because of how insignificant the impact of it was, is that Gray also directed a Vin Diesel actioner called "A Man Apart". It was universally panned by critics, avoided by movie-goers and eventually got a lame DVD release that's pretty hard to come by. It's the very definition of a cinematic flop. But, is it that bad ?

Surprisingly, I found it quite enjoyable. No doubt you will question my sanity, but before I go any further, I will say in my defense, that I never took the film seriously, and it's something you, dear reader, will have to do as well before you watch it. If even for a second you consider that what's happening on-screen should make any sense in a real world scenario, the illusion will immediately fall apart. In other words, you will hate it.

"We go on three, right ?"
Vin Diesel plays undercover DEA agent Sean Vetter. A good solid name for a Vin Diesel character. As part of a seven-year operation, he and his partner/sidekick, Demetrius Hicks (Larenz Tate) apprehend mega-druglord Memo Lucero (Geno Silva) in Mexico. As a consequence, a shadowy underground figure, calling himself "Diablo", orders Vetter's assassination. Unfortunately, the hitmen fail and Vetter's wife gets killed instead. This sets the DEA agent on a warpath that will take him beyond the borders of the law in order to take down "Diablo". You totally did not see that coming, did you ?

The plot, as you might have already guessed, is so formulaic and predictable, that you can virtually see through time as far as the moment when the credits start rolling. Surprises mean nothing to the writer of the script, apparently, because you can see them coming like you were Nicolas Cage in "Next". With that little detail out of the way, you can do nothing else but enjoy the trip through the void of reason that this movie is. You have Vin Diesel doing his best tough guy acting routine, plus some unexpected emoting. He's a valid action star and the fact that he proves himself to be convincing in emotional scenes is truly great. Larenz Tate is great fun as the energic and loyal sidekick, too. The partner routine works, because Tate never resorts to cheesy comedy to support Diesel. He plays the part in perfect balance between easy-going and dead-serious. The work these two actors put into this movie is nothing short of a genuine miracle considering how bad the dialogue is. Silva as Lucero is effectively deep-voiced and steely as any villain should be, but also mysterious and calculated as if the movie would give him more to do than just a few inane scenes. In a nutshell, you could say everyone acts as if they're not aware of the kind of movie they're in. Or, maybe it just read better on paper. As a bonus we also get Timothy Olyphant in a great supporting part as a sleazy drug-dealer.

Diesel chases Olyphant, aka Hollywood Jack. 
There's a big problem with logic in this movie. The opening action sequence, for example, starts out as a commanding officer tells Vetter and Hicks that they're not allowed to carry weapons for the duration of the bust, implying that the operation has to go down peacefully. Fast-forward a minute later, bullets are flying all over the place from both sides of the law. How's that for going in quietly. I took that as a sign that my brain needs to be turned off. Much of what goes on in the movie proves to be more or less afflicted by such lapses in logic. Another scene, a big parking lot shoot-out was so confusing, that all I could do was look out for frames featuring recognizable actors for any sense of coherence. Still, it was a pretty impressive action scene for such a low-budget movie.

Normally, I would tax this kind movie with a below 50% entertainment factor, but somehow, the level of dedication the director and actors display here softened me up a bit. The cinematography is also really good, which surprised me in a good way. The action is decent and the revenge story finds the right tone. Obviously, it's not Vin Diesel's or F. Gary Gray's finest masterpiece, but it's still passable B-flick entertainment that will appeal if you're in the mood for it.

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