A Man Apart is an action movie that wants us to care about the hero’s quest to avenge his slain wife, but seems more concerned with drug-bust procedurals and weak, red herring plot twists.

It’s a curious misstep for star Vin Diesel, who made this film two years ago before the $20 million paychecks came calling. Normally, damage control on long-shelved dreck such as this would be out of an actor’s hands. But Diesel’s producing credit means he was one of too many cooks in the kitchen for this pre-fame turkey.

Diesel is Sean Vetter, a DEA agent who, in Mexico, busts evasive cocaine lord Meno Lucero (Geno Silva). Lucero tells Sean things will only get worse for the both of them. 

What does Sean care? He and his beautiful wife, Stacey, not only dance, they salsa at sunset in the sand of their beachfront home while birds fly overhead. Not only is their marriage ridiculously cute, it’s the sort of discord-free wedded bliss that makes you think things should get worse. In a movie like this, that Stacey isn’t pregnant when she’s murdered passes for subtlety.

Naturally, Sean suspects Lucero of having pulled the strings from his cell. But Lucero’s own family has been targeted, and he warns Sean of Diablo — a new, unknown drug kingpin with a fondness for carving his name into the backs of those who cross him.

Instead of cleaning up his home (which has police tape, evidence of grief-induced beer drinking and a bloodstained mattress months after the fact), Sean decides to wipe the floor with Diablo. But with his badge revoked and partners alienated, he may just have to go it as … well, a man apart.

Narration of any sort is usually a bad sign, but Diesel’s marble-mouthed delivery that opens the movie is lifeless. It has the tone of a producer/star who perhaps knew the movie should not deal with drug-trafficking factoids but was forced into it.

Bleary-eyed, unshaven and enraged, Diesel does give it his typical all, but it’s in the service of a movie that doesn’t care. By showing plenty of grisly murders, (even the old Colombian necktie) director F. Gary Gray gets the grainy drug thriller look but none of its jolt. Aside from a botched drug buy with as many well-placed and well-armed drug mules as lawmen, the movie has no tension or spark.

The movie gets a kick in the pants from Timothy Olyphant as Hollywood Jack, a pusher as flamboyantly snotty as he is prone to violence. He’s way too fun to be Diablo, though, so he’s knocked out of the story in favor of switcheroos and double-backs as to the villain’s identity. Stop to consider just how ruthless a successful drug kingpin would be, and it’s a fairly obvious “twist.”

Diesel’s films typically promise little more than big, occasionally melodramatic action, but at least past efforts have delivered. This is a revenge thriller that for long stretches forgets about the revenge and, more importantly, the thrills.