The Core Dump

A strong conviction that something must be done is the parent of many bad measures

[By Nic Lindh on Thursday, 18 March 2004]

Thoughts on a really bad movie

Decided to veg out last night and watch a movie, and came across the Vin Diesel vehicle A Man Apart. Vaguely recalled that the reviews had been so-so but not completely terrible, and so decided to watch it. The reviews should have been horrible for this stinker.

A Man Apart suffers from the number one Hollywood problem that always makes me hyperventilate in frustration: A dumb, dumb, dumb plot.

Apart from the script, the movie is okay. The acting is good enough for this kind of vehicle, the cinematography is fine, the action scenes have some intensity, the editing is fine, and the music is okay. No complaints about any of that. So why is it that all these professionals can get together to work on a movie like this, and end up falling apart on what should be the bedrock of the entire production? There are literally tons of good novels and short stories out there begging to be turned into movies, so why do you have high school students on dope write the script? Of course, I can’t be certain the movie was written by high school students, but if it was written by adults, they should hang their heads in shame. And immediately seek counseling for their substance abuse problems.

WARNING: Spoilers coming up. But it really doesn’t matter, because this movie is so dumb you probably won’t sit through it anyway. Also, I wasn’t taking notes while watching the movie, so some details are probably a bit off, especially during the bits where I was dumbfounded by the sheer stupidity of this thing.

The plot is basically that Diesel plays a DEA agent with a beautiful wife he loves very much. You can pretty much guess from the first time you see him gaze adoringly at her how long she is for this planet. Diesel and his merry men bust a drug kingpin after seven years of looking for him. The kingpin goes to prison. Diesel’s wife gets killed in what seems like a hit on Diesel. Diesel is very upset about this, naturally. Diesel goes to see the drug kingpin, who claims that he had nothing to do with the murder. Then, a new drug kingpin called Diablo (ooh, spooky) arrives on the scene. Diablo attempts to muscle in on drug kingpin number one’s territory, killing lots of people in unpleasant and graphic ways.

Among the dead are kingpin number one’s wife and son. Kingpin number one is shattered by this and wants revenge.

So at this point Diesel sets up a sting operation, and then goes ballistic during the sting, turning it into a bloody gun battle. For this, he gets six months’ leave by his mentor “to mourn.” Naturally, being a gung-ho, on-the-edge, driven-by-demons kind of guy, he immediately starts pursuing Diablo on the side, helped by his DEA sidekick, who apparently can take time off from work at any point to help out.

Our heroes end up in Mexico, where a huge shoot-out ensues, and Diesel finds who he thinks is Diablo. It’s kingpin number one’s henchman. But he is not Diablo. Weirdly interspersed with this are scenes of kingpin number one’s transfer to a different prison, which Diesel has set up as a thank you for putting him on the trail of Diablo. Interestingly, Diesel has managed to set up a prisoner transfer after being forced to go on leave from his position at the DEA.

Watch for the plot twist, and here it comes: Kingpin number one breaks out of the prison transport and escapes to Mexico! Turns out that the murder of Diesel’s wife and the murder of kingpin number one’s wife and son, as well as the murders of many of his top henchmen were actually–are you sitting down for this?–a part of kingpin number one’s plan to get a prison transfer so he could break out.

Sure. All right.

After this, Diesel tells his sidekick that he’s going to disappear for a while, then goes down to Mexico, some nebulous way locates kingpin number one’s hiding place, and–still sitting?–arrests him with the help of Mexican police.

So far, so dumb. This makes absolutely no sense. Surely, if you’re a kingpin, you can find some way to get a prison transfer without tearing your whole organization apart and killing your wife and child?

To add to the frustration here, it’s pretty obvious that the ending was grafted on. The real ending should have been that Diesel’s mentor was Diablo. They hint at this all the time, with Meaningful Long Lingering Shots on the mentor during key scenes, and that way the plot could actually have made some sort of sense.

Now, I’m not a DEA agent, nor do I play one on television, but I think it would seem obvious that doing certain things would make your career in the DEA short. These things would include things like: a) Playing russian roulette with a prisoner while other cops are milling around; b) Inviting a known major local drug dealer to your house for a party with the other DEA people; c) Bitch-slapping a suspect in front of twenty civilian witnesses; d) Breaking into houses without a search warrant as a matter of course; e) Never, ever, filling out any kind of paper work whatsoever; f) Beating a suspect to death with your bare hands.

OK, so the movie is really stupid. But why pick on A Man Apart instead of any of the other dumb-as-rocks movies out there? Because it committed the grave error of having aspirations of being something more than a wham-bang flick. If the script writers had actually been sober, this could have been really decent. They’re trying to tie in the trauma of having a loved one murdered, and creating a bit of Drama instead of “just” being a shoot-em-up, but botch it so horribly it hurts to watch.

Note to Hollywood: They’re called screen plays. I hear there are people out there who are good at writing them. Hire those people and let them do their jobs.

Music: Stream from Secret Agent

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