IT PROBABLY won't shock the western world to learn the latest Vin Diesel action picture is junk. Of course it is. Picture this guy performing in anything that doesn't involve him displaying his biceps, high-fiving other bulky guys and casually accepting the inexplicable devotion of nubile women.
But for the guys and gals who accept Vin as their personal savior, I will say this: "A Man Apart" has its moments -- funny moments. Someone smart -- probably an uncredited, badly paid scriptwriter -- realized that there's nothing to slake an insufferable action star's narcissism like humor.
So, while you're enduring the usual formulaic yada yada -- from the usual slain wife to the drug cartel lords -- at least there are yuks to enjoy.
But first let's cruise through the dreary 411. Diesel plays Sean Vetter, a DEA agent who has been tracking drug lord Meno Lucero (Geno Silva). He puts Meno in jail, but the drug problem doesn't go away. A new name is circulating among the dealers, suppliers and other tattooed movie extras of the Mexico/California continuum: Diablo. If you're reading this in a public place, suddenly stand up and say in a raspy whisper: Diablo. It'll give you street cred.
It seems this Diablo wants to take over Meno's territory swift and hard. One of the first moves: blowing away Sean's wife, Stacy (Jacqueline Obradors), "Godfather II" style (a late-night, rat-a-tat-tat bedroom ambush).
If you've watched more than one action flick in your life, you know Stacy is marital dead meat from the get-go. Why else would we have to endure slow-motion, silhouette shots of His Bulkiness cavorting with Stacy on a Malibu beach while seagulls (also silhouetted) screech and flap against the sky. How a DEA agent can afford that beach house without doing a little dealing himself is the movie's biggest mystery.
The rest is action-movie revenge. Sean is so angry and upset, he starts smoking. (This is what passes for character arc in these movies.) He gets reckless, too. Beats people bloody and senseless. Of course, he gets called off the beat because, you know, this thing is getting too personal. So he goes outside the law with his DEA buddy Demetrius (Larenz Tate) and a hip-hop buddy named Big Sexy (George Sharperson).
Demetrius is a welcome addition because at least he's funny as he reacts to his friend's over-the-top intensity. Other amusing stuff includes Big Sexy's skinny, drug-sniffing chihuahua (I think that's what it is: some sort of nasty dog-rat), who can sniff the marijuana roach out of a distant ashtray and scurries around the neighborhood like a cartoon dog. Also comical is a very disconsolate bro from the 'hood who explains how he escaped Diablo's gunmen, who attacked his house: "I was hiding in the attic!" And Timothy Olyphant gets a kudo or two for being a completely nutso designer drug dealer who has the good sense to realize he's playing one of the movie's many one-dimensional characters, so he might as well have insane fun.
A MAN APART (R, 100 minutes) -- Contains violence, drug use, lap dancing, semi-nudity, obscenity, sexual material and Vin Diesel. Area theaters.