Dir. F. Gary Gray; writ. Christian Gudegast; feat. Vin Diesel, Larenz Tate, Timothy Olyphant (R)

The reason rogue cops who "get too close to the investigation" and are "pushed over the edge," requiring them to "take a little time off to clear `their` head`s`," are such popular action-movie mainstays is that their ostracism allows them to resort to means as blood-soaked and reactionary as those of the criminals they're hunting.

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Vin Diesel in A Man Apart.
As a mostly Christian people, Americans quote the New Testament like it's going out of style, but only a secret longing for a return to eye-for-an-eye justice could explain our nation's love of capital punishment, guns! guns! guns!, and brain-dead movies like this one.

Vin Diesel plays against type as Vin Diesel with a beard, a DEA agent named Vetter whose squeaky-voiced wife is killed by members of a drug cartel. We can only look on, fallible mortals, all, as this chrome-domed Apollo weathers the five stages of action-movie grief-management: rage, flashbacks, steel-jawed stoicism, rock-music montages, and, finally, imperviousness to gunfire. Vengeance must be his, so with the help of some old gang-banging buddies, Vetter is off to topple the cartel and their evil leader, El Diablo.

A Man Apart is derivative, mindless, and nauseatingly nonchalant in its depiction of violence, but perhaps most grating is the dialogue. A film this stupid shouldn't be confusing, but what to make of the slang? To paraphrase: "You want me to do a 30 on the up and side? I can't carry that kind of weight!" Huh? In the end, though, it doesn't really matter what's being said. Heads have exploded, bodies have fallen left and right, and it's hard not to leave the theater feeling a little dead yourself. A Man Apart isn't just bad. It taints. JOE WEISS


Dir. Peter Segal; writ. David Dorfman; feat. Jack Nicholson, Adam Sandler, Marisa Tomei, Luis Guzmán, John Turturro, Woody Harrelson, John C. Reilly, Heather Graham (PG-13)

It's shameful, the number of self-proclaimed Adam Sandler fans who are going to go see this lame little flick because they think it would be really funny to see the big boy do battle with his inner demons, who didn't bother to see Punch-Drunk Love because it was allegedly a weird little art film. Listen up, bozos: You deserve what you're going to get.

Sandler was funny as hell in last year's P.T. Anderson movie, and he also played a convincing, complicated human being. In Anger Management, he gets to be little more than a straight man plodding through the world of a director who brought the world such comic gems as Nutty Professor II: The Klumps, and the aptly titled Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult.

Given that the plots of Sandler's entertaining films are enormously contrived, few devotees will be discouraged to hear that Anger Management is about as plausible as a fat-free bacon egg and cheese taco. Making a solid case against the plot would require

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(L to r) Jack Nicholson and Adam Sandler in Anger Management.
spoiling its - ahem - surprise ending, but rest assured that no coincidence is too far-fetched for the screenwriter to assume you will gobble it up. Heck, they don't even expect you to chew before you swallow - the scene that gets the plot going wastes no time on niceties like comic build-up: Sandler gets on a plane, has a flight attendant and security guy go nuts on him, and gets sentenced to enroll in Jack Nicholson's anger counseling program. What ensues isn't hilarity so much as the occasional joke that can't be bothered to build to another one.

Nicholson's all eyebrows and constipated grins, Sandler misplaces both his inner child and his inner man, and nobody has much fun. A truly stunning parade of big-name actors in bit parts struts by, culminating in an almost offensive cameo by the former mayor of New York City. Please, Mr. Giuliani: Stop trying to exploit your post-9-11 approval for cash. If you don't have the balls to exploit it for political gain like everybody else, take your mistress and go home. And take this dog of a movie with you. JOHN DEFORE


Dir: Gurinder Chadha; writ. Gurinder Chadha, Paul Mayeda Berges; feat. Parminder K. Nagra, Keira Knightley, Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, Anupam Kher, Archie Panjabi (PG-13)

Will Jesminder "Jess" Bhamra (Nagra), the dutiful second daughter of a middle-class Punjabi family living in London, attend her sister's gaudy, traditional Sikh wedding? Or will she slip away to play in the crucial final season match of a women's European football league? Bend It Like Beckham is the endearing story of culture clash - between England and India, masculine and feminine, straight and gay, immigrants and their assimilating children. Lovely tomboy Jess's

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Parminder Nagra and Jonathan Rhys-Meyers have a moment in Bend it Like Beckham.
unlikely role model, Manchester United's star kicker David Beckham, knows how to bend the ball to score a goal. Director Gurinder Chadha offers a lesson in how cultures, too, manage to thrive by learning to bend.

"You don't even learn to cook dahl," complains the matriarch of the Bhamra family when she discovers that her daughter is more interested in sports than the sorts of things that should concern a marriageable Sikh woman. "I don't want you running around half-naked in front of men." Jess loves her family, more than aloo gobi, but her heart belongs to football (i.e. soccer), and perhaps also to the Irish coach of her Hounslow Harriers. While her older sister, Pinky (Panjabi), prepares for the high point of her life, an elaborate wedding to a suitable Sikh groom, Jess envisions a life where love is never having to wear a sari. She keeps sneaking away to play football and consort with non-Indians. Despite the fact that he is gay, an old friend, Tony, covers for her by feigning a romantic relationship. The film is a comedy of misunderstandings, including an unintended one shared by the screenwriters with their characters, that the United States is a paradise for women's soccer. Although Jess rejects the role assigned her, Bend It Like Beckham follows the conventions of inspirational sports movies - montage of matches, crisis in the team we are rooting for, a modicum of suspense over who wins the big game. Relentlessly cheerful, it is Rocky served up with samosas and bitters. — STEVEN G. KELLMAN



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