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Friday, April 4, 2003 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Macho 'Man Apart' runs on pure Diesel

Seattle Times movie critic

Movie review


**
"A Man Apart," with Vin Diesel, Larenz Tate, Timothy Olyphant, Jacqueline Obradors, Geno Silva, Steve Eastin, George Sharperson. Directed by F. Gary Gray, from a screenplay by Christian Gudegast and Paul Scheuring. 114 minutes. Rated R for strong graphic violence, language, drug content and sexuality. Several theaters.

It's impossible to watch the hulking heartthrob Vin Diesel on screen without being distracted by his biceps — first, because they seem to be bigger than his head (which isn't tiny either), and second, because they are often more expressive than his face. In "A Man Apart," a movie that requires Diesel to express some emotion now and then, the actor gives his not-inconsiderable all, with mixed results.

Diesel plays Sean Vetter, a drug cop working near the Mexican border on the trail of a major drug lord known as Diablo. Vetter and his pretty wife (Jacqueline Obradors) live in a charming cottage on the beach, where she makes candles and they dance together on the shore and kiss as the sun sets behind them and gulls fly across the horizon. In other words, since this is a thriller, you know they're doomed.

So, bad stuff happens, causing Vetter to get mildly agitated and to speak a little faster (normally, he sounds slow, mellow and deep, like he's being played on the wrong speed). With partner Demetrius (Larenz Tate) and an associate incongruously known as Big Sexy (George Sharperson), he becomes obsessed with taking down Diablo, and the latter half of the movie is a confusing parade of guns, bodies and manly posturing. This movie is so testosterone-laden (as Diesel's movies inevitably are — no wimpy romantic comedies for this guy) that one character is seen carrying a gun and a beer in the same hand.

The macho atmosphere was enlivened, at the preview screening, by audible belching from the audience.

Director F. Gary Gray, who showed that he knows how to make a routine crime thriller sing in 1998's "The Negotiator," does what he can to move things along. As with Samuel L. Jackson and Kevin Spacey in that movie, he's good at establishing connections between men, and Diesel and Tate in "A Man Apart" have a genuine chemistry and concern for each other, as longtime police partners would believably have. And, for all the silly larger-than-lifeness of Diesel's character, Gray lets us get caught up in the story in spite of ourselves; he creates a tension and momentum, and even finds a few moments of real humor.

But ultimately, "A Man Apart" is Diesel's movie: He's now a full-fledged A-list star, pulling in $20 million per movie. He's certainly convincing as he bashes somebody's head in with his enormous hands or grabs the hair of some bozo who talks back to him. As for acting, well, there are some things money can't buy. But at $10 million per bicep, he may be a relative bargain.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com

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