Late in A Man Apart — after a particularly uninspired and painfully obvious faux climax — Sean Vetter (Vin Diesel) lurches from the carnage he’s inflicted on the bad guys, telling his partner: “This isn’t over.”
Rarely have three words had such a devastatingly depressing effect on me.
In his new movie, thrilling thespian Vin Diesel attempts to prove to the world that he’s more than just an action star with large, sinewy muscles and a haircut that suggests he’s only recently been unleashed on society after a stint in Sing Sing. As a result, A Man Apart is no mere collection of explosions, car chases and “the things I’m gonna do for my country” one-liners.
Unfortunately, it appears to have been devised by folks who have no idea what to do to fill the dead spaces when nothing is exploding and no one is shooting or pummeling anyone else.
I suppose we should merely be grateful that Mr. Diesel didn’t decide to tackle Hamlet (“To yo, or not to yo?”) But surely it wouldn’t have been too taxing to come up with something marginally better than the hackneyed old chestnut about the cop who goes on a revenge rampage when drug dealers murder his wife. Charles Bronson gave up this sort of thing 20 years ago, and even Steven Seagal is said to be thinking about dropping it from his repertoire.
It doesn’t help that the filmmakers can’t think of anything better to depict Vetter’s pre-dead-wife existence than a barrage of sun-dappled and candle-lit imagery that suggests he and Mrs. Vetter (Jacqueline Obradors, TV’s NYPD Blue) lived in a perpetual Miller High Life commercial.
If it doesn’t get any better than this, you can be sure it gets a lot worse. There are worse sins in a silly action thriller than a trite-and-true plot — and A Man Apart commits every one of them with almost gleeful tenacity. An action flick may be forgiven just about anything (see Transporter) so long as the action is abundant, clever, well staged, and oozing with testosterone.
In this case, the action is so isolated by scenes of Diesel acting you feel like you’re watching a musical with most of the songs cut out. When the action does occur, it’s incredibly muddled. In the raid that captures drug lord Meno Lucero (Geno Silva, Mullholland Drive) and sets the plot in motion, Vetter and his cohorts are told they can’t take guns. But, of course, they hide them anyway. Crashing Lucero’s party, they unleash more firepower than was used in Normandy on D-Day. (At least one of these boys must have shoved a Gatlin Gun down his trousers — something that might fetch him a lot of phone numbers at a party, but would seem to impede walking.)
It’s not merely ridiculous (that can sometimes be forgiven), but once the shooting starts, it becomes impossible to tell who’s shooting whom and why. Director F. Gary Gray seems to believe that audiences will be content so long as the bullets are flying and the stunt men are falling.
If he doesn’t care, why should I?
Later gunplay scenes aren’t appreciably better; most of them are frankly just dull — noisy outbursts on the road to the film’s nearly incomprehensible and alarmingly tame ending.
Presumably, all this is to provide room for the movie’s “weighty” story and Diesel’s acting. Acting, in this case, means he’s going to spend a lot of time visiting his wife’s grave, sitting around his bullet-riddled house like some muscle-bound Miss Havisham brooding over a 40-year-old wedding cake, remembering his Miller commercial life, and letting himself go to the point that his head gets a five-o’clock shadow. (We never see it, but he apparently enters and leaves the house by crawling under the crime-scene tape.)
Since he rarely has to say anything, and is often seen in silhouette against the perpetual twilight of these scenes, it’s hard to believe this taxed the actor all that much. The script also can’t seem to decide what his status with the police is. Even after he’s sent on leave for beating a suspect to death (his partner, in apparent ignorance of the fundamentals of forensics, thoughtfully shoots the corpse to cover this up), Vetter’s still able to drop in on the imprisoned drug lord for occasional words of wisdom on how to catch the man’s successor. (By this point, Lucero has become a kind of demonic Mr. Miyagi, offering sage advice like: “To bring down a monster, you must become a monster.”) Even better, he’s able to arrange a transfer to another prison for the old boy. No, it doesn’t make sense, but it suits the purposes of the story line.
Whether it will suit any but the most hardcore Dieselites is another matter.