Too familiar: A man playing a part

As a man playing a part in A Man Apart, Vin Diesel proves himself the best actor among the current action heroes, arguably the best since Harrison Ford. He manages this within the context of an otherwise routine action movie that pits the DEA against Mexican drug cartels.

Sean Vetter (Diesel) and Demetrius Hicks (Larenz Tate) are the baddest mofos in "the most successful anti-narcotics crew in law enforcement." After seven years, they bust kingpin Memo Lucero (Geno Silva) in a joint raid with Mexican authorities on a Tijuana club.

The opening at the top starts a war for dominance among a number of cartels, the most ruthless of which belongs to someone known as Diablo.

It's Sean who busted Lucero, so he assumes the imprisoned druglord is behind a middle-of-the-night assault on his beach house (I thought all public servants were underpaid) that leaves Vetter wounded and his beloved wife (Jacqueline Obradors) dead. The two perps are dead too, but that doesn't help.

A pointless prison visit persuades Vetter Lucero wasn't behind it ("If I'd wanted you dead you would be," is Lucero's clincher). Sean informs us he'll have to start at the bottom and work his way up to the top to find the person who ordered the hit. That sets the stage for a series of typical episodes in which a sense of action is often more important to director F. Gary Gray (Set It Off) than the action making sense.

Everywhere he goes, Sean loses his temper over anything from a mention of his wife's death to being called a "faggot." If he was a loose cannon before, he's a loose nuke now, but it takes a major skirmish that leaves three officers dead to make his boss (Steve Eastin) realize he needs "time to grieve."

Losing his badge for six months hardly slows Vetter at all. He does a little undercover work, including another prison visit to his new best friend Lucero, who advises him, "To bring down a monster... you must become a monster." (Too late.) Sean rounds up his old gang (who must all have the same day off) to finish the job they started.

There's an attempt to make the stock villains colorful. Hollywood Jack (Timothy Olyphant) is an ostentatious asshole who owns a tanning salon, and Mateo Santos (Juan Fernandez), Lucero's brother-in-law, gives off a gay vibe as if he were British rather than Mexican.

Missing in action is a cat who was a key part of the Vetter household before the wife's murder but is never seen or mentioned again, dead or alive. Perhaps there will be a sequel, A Cat Apart, explaining what happened to it.

Diesel reminds me of Jose Ferrer with muscles. His performance may set A Man Apart apart from other movies of its type, but at the end of the day that's not enough to overcome its overall familiarity.