'A Man Apart'

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Now that there's a real war going on, the euphemistic war on drugs that has taken up so much screen time seems more and more meaningless, and movies about it, like the current "A Man Apart," feel increasingly anachronistic.

We may still be, as the film's voice-over doesn't let us forget, the No. 1 drug-consuming nation on Earth, but that doesn't mean we're eager to sit through yet another overly familiar story of drug kingpins and Mexican cartels, a tale of coded messages, satellite phones, meetings in strip clubs and characters nicknamed Overdose.

Trying to figure out why this particular item got made, suspicion falls on the active participation of the man with the underwater voice, the last petulant action hero, Vin Diesel.

His unlikely ascent into the hard-guy pantheon is treated as something of a joke in Hollywood, witness Steve Martin's Oscar-night crack to Mickey Rooney that the veteran actor couldn't get a better seat because one had been set aside front and center for Mr. D.

Undeterred, Diesel is out there trying hard, at least initially, to expand his range, to take on a character who displays, albeit briefly, a kinder, gentler side to his standard street-wise hooligan persona.

Diesel's Sean Vetter is more than a veteran DEA agent, the kind of guy who can outrun a Mexican taxi if need be. He's not just a key member of an unconventional government anti-drug team, he's a loving and sensitive husband, living on the beach at Zuma with a beautiful wife (Jacqueline Obradors) who makes candles for a living. So there, Steve Martin, so there.

Stylishly directed by F. Gary Gray ("Set It Off," "Friday") and written by Christian Gudegast and Paul Scheuring, "A Man Apart" begins with the culmination of a seven-year quest for Vetter and his team.

That would be the arrest of Baja Cartel kingpin Memo Lucero (Geno Silva), a drug lord so devious that, taking a page from Saddam Hussein's book, he never sleeps in the same bed twice. "You have no idea," he ominously tells Vetter as he's being led away, "what kind of a mistake you're making."

No sooner is Memo safely behind bars than a mysterious, unseen new drug lord named Diablo takes over the business. Even more ruthless than Memo, he orders a hit on Vetter and his wife: Those who suspected that that happy marriage was too good to last will not be surprised at how things turn out.

After some requisite moments staring at the ocean and looking as close to distraught as Diesel can manage, agent Vetter terminates his sensitive side and turns into a "Death Wish"-type avenger, determined to let no precept, either legal or moral, stop him from finding and punishing whoever ordered that violent attack.

As Vetter gets increasingly out of control, compromising his mission and giving his partner, Demetrius Hicks (an underutilized Larenz Tate), the thankless task of trying to restrain him, Diesel goes deeper and deeper into familiar territory. Lots of bullets and lots of chaos follow in Vetter's wake, because, as he himself understands, "you must become a monster to bring down a billion-dollar business."

Though it wasn't planned this way, it's an amusing exercise to view "A Man Apart" as an allegory for the war in Iraq. The drug lord Memo is clearly Saddam, partner Demetrius has all the Tony Blair moves, while Diesel's Vetter insists, like the president, that he has to answer to a higher authority than conventional law in his quest to do what's right. If this film gets requested for a weekend at Camp David, don't be surprised.

'A Man Apart'

MPAA rating: R, for graphic violence, strong language, drug content and sexuality

Times guidelines: Considerable violence, drug use and some sensuality

Vin Diesel ... Sean Vetter
Larenz Tate ... Demetrius Hicks
Timothy Olyphant ... Jack Slayton
Jacqueline Obradors ... Stacy Vetter
Geno Silva ... Memo Lucero

A Vincent Newman & Tucker Tooley and Joseph Nittolo Entertainment production, released by New Line Cinema. Director F. Gary Gray. Producers Tucker Tooley, Vincent Newman, Joseph Nittolo, Vin Diesel. Executive producer Robert J. Degus. Screenplay Christian Gudegast and Paul Scheuring. Cinematographer Jack N. Green. Editors Bob Brown, William Hoy. Costume design Shawn Barton. Music Anne Dudley. Production design Ida Random. Art director Tom Reta. Set decorator Ellen Totleben. Running time: 1 hour, 49 minutes.

In general release.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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