Dir: F Gary Gray. US. 2003. 109mins.

Filmed two years ago, before the release of its star's 2001 breakthrough The Fast And The Furious, Vin Diesel vehicle A Man Apart delivers some stylishly violent drug cop action but never quite makes it as the more weighty crime drama it clearly wants to be. Youngish action fans waiting for Diesel's forthcoming sequels to Pitch Black and XXX will probably ensure the New Line production a solid domestic gross and New Line's international distribution partners should find themselves in possession of a decent theatrical performer. Its opening weekend domestic take was $11m from 2,459 sites. The film's returns, though, will probably come from welcoming domestic and international video markets.

Diesel's Sean Vetter and his partner Demetrius (Tate) are former LA gang-bangers now using their street smarts to fight the drug war as free-wheeling Drug Enforcement Administration agents. The partners are hailed for their capture of elusive Mexican drug kingpin Memo Lucero (Silva, best known from Scarface), but soon after the arrest masked gunmen invade Sean's home, wounding the agent and killing his young wife (NYPD Blue's Obradors). The attack looks like the work of Diablo, a mysterious and vicious new drug lord who plans to take over Lucero's lucrative business. Turning to the imprisoned Lucero for information, the grief-stricken Sean goes out for revenge, first using his DEA badge and then, when his rage gets him kicked off the force, as a loose cannon vigilante.

The script, the first produced effort from writers Christian Gudegast and Paul Scheuring, follows a predictable drug drama pattern and casts the story with cliched characters, from the well-intentioned but conflicted Sean, loyal sidekick and tolerant boss to the coldly sadistic Mexican cartel crew. The only really lively characters are two incidental bad guys, including a comically slick Beverly Hills coke dealer (nicely played by Olyphant).

Attempts to give the story a larger context and some dramatic grist - like the references to Sean and Demetrius' past and glimpses of the hero's domestic life - feel cursory and the surprise ending (reportedly changed between principal photography and release) is unconvincing.

Director F Gary Gray (The Negotiator) makes the most of the material, with vivid settings and slick action sequences. But his sense of pace occasionally falters, during the supposedly dramatic moments, with some scenes drawn out beyond their worth. As a result, the film loses crucial steam during its climactic half-hour.

Particularly effective though is cinematographer Jack N Green (a regular Clint Eastwood collaborator) who gives the production an arresting look and composer Anne Dudley, whose edgy score is a cut above the usual for an action movie.

Among the cast, most of the support have to make do with thin roles designed only to reflect the hero's character arc. Diesel, meanwhile, gives Sean a likeability that might not otherwise have come through and acquits himself reasonably well in emotional hot spots. But he cannot summon up the intensity necessary to turn Sean into a really intriguing character. For the time being at least, the rising star still seems best suited to the kind of good-natured action hero role he handled so effectively in XXX.

Prod cos: New Line Cinema, Newman/Tooley Films, Nittolo Entertainment
US dist: New Line
Int'l sales: New Line Int'l
Exec prods: Robert J Degus, Michael De Luca, Claire Rudnick Polstein, F Gary Gray
Prods: Tucker Tooley & Vincent Newman, Joseph Nittolo, Vin Diesel
Scr: Christian Gudegast & Paul Scheuring.
Cinematography: Jack N Green
Prod des: Ida Random
Ed: Bob Brown, William Hoy
Music: Anne Dudley
Main cast: Vin Diesel, Larenz Tate, Timothy Olyphant, Geno Silva, Steve Eastin