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Well before Vin Diesel shot to fame with The Fast & The Furious and xXx, New Line commissioned a small action film in the hope of uncovering the new Arnie or Sly. Hollywood has been crying out for someone of their caliber for some time so that they can launch a new wave of action flicks with a tried-and-true action star. Diesel’s turn in Boiler Room raised eyebrows without him actually having to flex those (absolutely massive) muscles of his, though it seems that’s where his work is bound to be directed. Knowing full well that more gigs would soon propel the gravel-voiced Diesel to stardom, the studio held onto the flick until such time as his fame was at its peak. But without a reasonable moment to slot the film in between his more high-budget blockbusters, New Line released A Man Apart without much fanfare. The result is an inevitable one.

Man Apart, A
While this film is admittedly just an early audition for Diesel to become an action hero, the premise is ridiculously familiar. How many more damaged-rogue-cop-gets-fired-then-seeks-vengeance storylines can we cop? Even the worst action heroes have at least one of these on their resume, so I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised that a similar script was sent Vin’s way. He’s at least got the muscle and charisma to back it up, and I for one wouldn’t want to go offing his wife in a hurry for fear of having my head squashed like a sultana.

Diesel plays Sean Vetter, an ex-crim turned DEA agent who knows how to catch the bad guys with the help of his also once-bad partner. The opening scenes portray him like we’ve seen countless characters before; popular with colleagues and street-dwellers alike, pretty well off living in a beachfront apartment and having a wife who seems content to smile and say “I love you” at every opportunity. It’s at this moment you know she’s doomed somewhere in the opening act.

While the storyline is very familiar, all the crucial plot points occur quite late in proceedings. Sean’s wife is taken out by a drug dealer fuming over being arrested, but that doesn’t happen until well past the 20-minute mark. There’s the obligatory grieving and going crazy period, then Sean’s steely resolve sees him back on the job determined to track down the punks behind it all. Not surprisingly, he loses it in probably the most satisfying scene in the film where Vin’s action star status is confirmed, leading to his suspension (or 6-month “holiday”) from the force. Again, this is very late in proceedings so you’ll be anxious to get it over with and move on. What follows is a revenge-tale where Sean decides to track down the next drug mastermind named Diablo (very original, guys) in the only way he knows how.

The bright spot in all this is Timothy Olyphant (Gone In 60 Seconds, no relation to the animals in Lord Of The Rings, I assume). His drug-dealing white-boy is creatively obnoxious, playing off well with Diesel’s no-nonsense routine. Diesel’s acting isn’t all that bad, though admittedly he has little to work with to show off any dramatic range save for a few angry looks and some desperate blank stares. But did Sly or Arnie ever seem like Laurence Olivier to you? He can’t divert our gaze from the few glaring plot holes along the way missed by Director F Gary Gray (The Negotiator). Sean’s house still have a police line tape across it well after she’s bitten the dust, with her husband still living in it. During his first visit to drug cartel kingpin Memo Lucero in jail he’s ordered to stand no less than ten feet away from the prisoner. In his next meeting they’re sitting side by side not monitored by anyone, even exchanging something between them. It’s these kinds of moments where you’ll be scratching your head as there aren’t enough action sequences to really distract your attention.

Man Apart, A
There’s probably just enough in this film for action fans to enjoy. Having relatively fresh-faced Diesel in the driver’s seat beats the hell out of re-runs of Van Damme flicks any day, and he’s sure as hell got the tough guy image down pat. Whether anything better is thrown his way in the future remains to be seen, but for an early audition (remember, this was shot before his bigger action films) it’s quite easy to watch. There’s not a thing original about any of it, which would explain the film’s modest return at the box-office and the critical disdain shown during its theatrical run, but at least you’ll be able to see where it all started. Boiler Room may still be his best work in terms of drama and his more high-profile efforts are much better action fare. That said, A Man Apart chugs along with a familiarity that might just make some audience members quite comfortable for just over 100 minutes.

The 2.35:1 transfer doesn’t feature the cleanest print in town, which adds weight to the story of it gathering dust in New Line’s archives for a while. It’s a strange looking presentation, with an inconsistency in quality the whole way through. Grain is evident here and there, suggesting it was filmed on a slightly lower-grade film stock than your average new release. Most scenes, however, give us brilliant colour and a particularly sharp picture. Aliasing pops up quite early on in the more difficult scenes to render but none of it is all that distracting. Later scenes don’t seem to have the same problem.

The cinematography has also borrowed from action flicks of the past; you’ve got the exposed feel to the lighting and exteriors, the gritty look to most of the indoor scenes and a large amount of grain to emphasise the situation. On the whole it looks quite good, though I wouldn’t call it Roadshow’s best effort of late.

Included is a Dolby Digital 5.1 track that is quite impressive overall. It seems the audio engineers have had a little fun throughout the film shifting things around the fronts and the rears. The action sequences, naturally, exhibit the most action from behind your ears, mainly those gunshots that don’t quite hit the mark and the ensuing explosions from all the mayhem. Dialogue sequences obviously don’t fare as well yet there’s generally always something going on in the background. The actual spoken words are clear at all times, if you can understand the ghetto-talk and Diesel’s deep-throated gurgle.

The score, composed by former Art Of Noise band member Anne Dudley, sounds great for the most part. Nothing gets in the way of what’s going on in the foreground and none of it seems all that trite or clichéd. The majority of the film is underscored by at least some form of music, so you can count this one as a pretty damn good effort. The 5.1 soundtrack also helps to shift it back to the rears when it’s needed.

Man Apart, A
Unfortunately there’s very little to see here, continuing the trend of Gray’s films getting the donut treatment on DVD. A commentary track would’ve been great here as there’s usually a fair bit to waffle on about in a mindless action flick. The deleted scenes package, however, make up some ground by giving us seven high quality cuts that really could have been slipped right back into the picture. Time constraints aside, these would’ve easily contributed at least somewhat to the film, especially as we get to see a little more of Olyphant’s (I still can’t believe that’s his name) Hollywood Jack.

The only other extra is the theatrical trailer, which is disappointing as a few extra pieces could’ve really added some weight to the disc. The Region 1 version only features a couple of extra promos for other discs.

Keeping in mind Diesel was by no means a star when he shot this one, the film isn’t all that bad. It’s your average fare with a laughably tired storyline, but there are just enough moments of action and mayhem to suffice. The video transfer is above average, the soundtrack is impressive thanks to some good use of surrounds and an understated score, while the deleted scenes are well worth a look. Not the best disc going around, but Diesel fans should get just enough of a kick out of it overall.