Sean Vetter (Vin Diesel) is a DEA agent whose pursuit of the Mexican cartel operator Memo Lucero (Geno Silva) has finally reached what he hopes is an end. The war on drugs, specifically cocaine, is tough in the United States when it is the single biggest consumer, but if they can cut off this particular head of an organisation, it will be a major strike to the trafficking operations, therefore Vetter and a contingent of agents make their way through the border fence and surround the mansion they know Memo is staying in. He never sleeps in the same place twice, making him hard to catch, but the DEA has had advance word, and now there's no getting away for him...
A Man Apart represents what Vin Diesel could have wound up doing had he not found his metier as a star of way over the top action flicks. In this alternative universe illustrated by F. Gary Gray's cartel revenge thriller, he was the lead in oh-so-serious thrillers like what you could see here, where the humour was kept to a minimum and the plots were something you could comfortably allow to go straight to DVD (or later, streaming) without much of a difference in the approach - merely the budget. There, Vin would not be traversing the galaxy, nor driving around in increasingly absurd car chases, he would be headlining far less flashy fare, and frankly be underutilised as a result.
Diesel was a star who needed something to match his cartoonish, sensitive macho stylings, and what went on here only intermittently lived up to his best persona as for the most part it was far too dour to be enjoyable. No wonder, considering what sets Vetter on the vengeance trail, which you can anticipate with pinpoint accuracy once he returns home after successfully putting Memo behind bars, and his life with missus Jacqueline Obradors is nothing short of idyllic - they're even planning to start a family. She might as well be a cop three days from retirement, in other words, you can predict exactly how she will end up within nanoseconds of the party scene Vetter indulges in.
His best friend bore the unlikely moniker of Demetrius Hicks, played by Larenz Tate, who really does have the whole family man thing down pat, and is a glimpse into a way of life that Vetter sees cruelly snatched away from him. Thus the rest of the story features him trying to keep his fury and outrage in check as all the while he gets closer to the mysterious El Diablo, the cartel leader who has stepped in now Memo is out of the picture, filling that power vacuum with a far more ruthless method of keeping the cocaine flowing up America's noses. It is this man who ordered Mrs Vetter's execution, so while a part of the Agency, our hero is also a maverick who sets out on his own and breaks the rules, so he can be two clichés at once, neither of them designed with enough personality to make for an engaging watch in a final cut that had been refashioned without Gray's involvement.
Make no mistake: though not blessed with a wide range, Diesel has presence in his vehicles, and arguably that was in play here, yet all the presence in the world was not going to overcome a script that simply did not give him enough to do that was entertaining. He did get his shoot 'em up sequences, and chased about a bit into the bargain, but otherwise it was too easy to allow the attention to drift when we really had seen it all before. There were no novelties here, it took itself too seriously for that, and the consequences may not have ruined the entire experience but they did not make for an entertaining watch either. Yer man moped about, lost his temper and got into fights, but only the comparatively more expensive look Gray conjured up for his efforts marked this out as one level above the sort of material that bypassed cinemas entirely; yes, it was slick, no one was disputing that he knew where to place a camera, but all the window dressing in the world was not about to hide what was decidedly ho-hum. He and his lead must have gotten along, for they reteamed for one of the blockbuster sequels that littered Diesel's career over a decade afterwards. Music by Anne Dudley.