A violent and gritty film A Man Apart follows DEA agents Sean Vetter (Vin Diesel) and Demetrius Hicks (Larenz Tate) as they try to stop the drug pipeline along the US/Mexico border. After seven years of surveillance they take down Baja California cartel kingpin Memo Lucero (Geno Silva) whose ominous last words to Vetter are "You have no idea what kind of mistake you are making." Vetter doesn't take the threat to heart--until a hail of bullets kills his wife Stacy (Jacqueline Obradors) as she sleeps. Vetter discovers the man responsible for Stacy's death is Diablo who has stepped in to claim the Baja cartel. A grief-stricken Vetter enlists Hicks's help to avenge his wife's murder but his personal involvement in the case clouds his judgement--and at this point we know for certain that two things will happen. First Vetter will be pulled off the case and second he will go after his wife's killer without the department's authorization. When this ultimately happens Vetter turns to the jailed Memo for help tracking down Diablo. But just when you think you have the story all figured out it comes back at you with a twist.
A Man Apart gives Diesel a chance to play a character with more depth than um Zander Cage in XXX or Dominic Torreto in The Fast and the Furious. He definitely sinks his teeth into the role--a little too much. As Vetter Diesel shares some "tender" moments with his on-screen wife but the chemistry between the two is lukewarm and their oh-so-perfect marriage is too fairytale-like to buy. They drink red wine and dance on the beach at sunset (really). And as a widower Diesel overdoes the dazed and detached thing. In one scene Vetter beats a man to a pulp then slumps down against his car and stares vacantly into the distance a victim of his own misbehavior. But Diesel's performance lacks sincerity. Vetter's DEA partner Hicks is played by Tate (Biker Boyz) who carves out a more grounded and representational character. Tate shapes Hicks into a multifaceted character that is tough streetwise and sympathetic--minus the showboating. Worth an honorable mention is Timothy Olyphant (Dreamcatcher) in the role of Hollywood Jack an obnoxious drug supplier who runs a tanning salon. This two-faced hoodlum steals some of the film's best moments.
If there is one thing that director F. Gary Gray has mastered it is the art of making cheesy material watchable. Like Gray's last two films The Negotiator and Set It Off A Man Apart is a gritty urban drama that is entertaining if you allow yourself to be absorbed in the director's dynamic visual style. There is never a dull moment here and like a trailer it cuts from one action-packed scene to another. But if you stop to analyze what's going on or being said corny lines are likely to pop out and cause you to laugh out loud when you're not supposed to. Imagine a line such as "You alone are trying to bring down a monster. As a cop that's impossible; you must become a monster" reverberating in your head. It's enough to distract you from the film's hair-raising violence. Not all of the dialogue is laughable however and there is one scene in particular that is funny and bitingly genuine where Vetter and Hicks pump a dealer named Overdose for information. It's reminiscent of the wisecracking dialogue in Gray's 1995 directorial debut Friday.
Poor poor Harry Potter. Orphaned as an infant he's been raised by his beastly aunt and uncle who keep him locked in the room under the stairs and make him serve breakfast. But 11-year-old Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) has always known he was different a fact confirmed in a big way when he's invited to enroll at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Despite his horrid family's protests Harry's whisked off by a giant named Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane) to the magic school where it seems he's something of a celebrity. Turns out his parents were killed by a wicked "fallen wizard " who despite his mighty powers was somehow unable to kill the baby Harry. It will eventually fall to Harry to stop the malevolent sorcerer who still roams the countryside plotting to get hold of a magic stone secreted inside Hogwarts that will give him absolute power. Meanwhile Harry makes some new friends in bossy Hermione (Emma Watson) and affable Ron (Rupert Grint) becomes a star player of Quidditch (like hockey on broomsticks) and defeats a troll rampaging through the girls' bathroom.
Unfortunately Radcliffe brings nothing spectacular to a role that requires it. You don't like him or dislike him; he's a bland Harry who simply reacts (without the sheer amazement you expect from an 11-year-old boy) to the wild and crazy situations he's suddenly immersed in. By contrast Watson carries off her officious Hermione with aplomb and personality as does Grint (who looks startlingly like a young Hayley Mills) as Harry's bumbling loyal buddy. The rest of the enormous cast throw themselves into their we've-seen-these-characters-before roles with gusto: Richard Harris as wise old headmaster Dumbledore Maggie Smith as a prim and proper schoolteacher Tom Felton as Harry's smarmy arrogant rival Draco. Best in show goes to Coltrane as the amiable giant who gets the most screen time of all the adults as he helps Harry along on his journey of discovery. A pageboy'd goth Alan Rickman as sly Professor Snape is good too but underused.
Chris Columbus certainly had his work cut out--remain true to the fanatically revered book or attempt to interpret its magic? As one might expect from the director of Mrs. Doubtfire and Stepmom he took the high road and gives us the book almost word for word (you practically expect Rowling herself to pop on-screen to narrate). It makes for a safely predictable movie but lacks the enchantment of discovery. John Williams' slick grandiose and too-loud score doesn't help either. As it turns out the best special effects are in the not-so-obvious details--pumpkins and candles suspended in the dining hall moving pictures on the walls--rather than the cheesy Cerberus guarding the stone and ghosts like Nearly Headless Nick (John Cleese's cameo) which move about like Disneyland holograms. Even the overlong Quidditch game looks fake-y; the players zoom through a blue sky that might as well be the blue screen. Lots of unanswered questions will remain after you leave the theater: why is Snape such a jerk and how come Harry didn't once use the precious wand he's given except to stab the troll in the nose?