The tagline claims: "Life Is A Matador" but should perhaps read: "A Lot of Bull".

Strays is hugely flawed - predictable, dull and with a slower pace than a three-legged tortoise on Valium but a few merits are hidden within. It was written, directed by and stars xXx star Vin Diesel, who made it after failing to land acting roles.

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But don't expect the blow-em-up, beat-em-up action he made his name with in this coming-of-age drama. The Strays of the title are four streetwise New Yorkers in their mid-20s who were raised by their mothers while never knowing their fathers and have found a family unit in each other.

The psychological bruises inflicted by their dads' abscences are evident – woman are to be loved and left.

But leader of the pack, Rick (Diesel) is growing tired of his shallow lifestyle – a Groundhog Day of one-night stands and minor drug deals. He wants a loving relationship – and thinks he has found Miss RIght when wholesome country girl Heather (Suzanne Lanza) moves in next door. But his aggression, dubious occupation and emotional walls threaten to destroy his happy ever after.

The influence of Martin Scorsese and Sidney Lumet on Diesel is evident. He tries to capture New York with their authenticity and serves up a fairly decent, gritty presentation.

But his directing skills are nowhere near in his idols' league.

The pace is too slow with bad cuts - you rarely know who is speaking because the camera is often on another character, usually Diesel. It's also a predictable story we've seen a million times before and reminded me of Saturday Night Fever - except Diesel's lead has no talent to help him get out of his rut and better himself.

Even his bum friends are like Travolta's Tony's buddies in the disco classic - the womaniser, the clingy wannabe, the smart-talker. Heather is another cliche – all pastel cardies and shining blonde hair. Lanza gives an impressive performance though, natural and likeable. Diesel has to carry the whole film but struggles under the weight. His annoying mumbling means you rarely make out what he is saying while his emotional range is that of a spoon. Is he happy, sad, agonised? Who knows? Who cares?

The only real highpoint is a scene with Diesel and Lanza chatting on a bench. Both give intense performances that give their characters some depth and the chemistry between them sizzles.

Another stand-out is Mike Epps as Mike in his first acting job. His natural delivery lifts every scene he is in. Strays was nominated for the Grand Jury prize at Sundance and while flawed, it is impressive for a first feature and proves there is more to Diesel than a brainless action zero. Hopefully he will remember this and try more filmmaking rather than sell-out in tripe like The Pacifier.

Reviewed on: 06 Jul 2008
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Strays packshot
A streetwise twentysomething seeks a more meaningful life than drugs, drink and womanising on the mean streets of New York.
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Director: Vin Diesel

Writer: Vin Diesel

Starring: Vin Diesel, Suzanne Lanza, Joey Dedio, Mike Epps, F Valentino Morales

Year: 1997

Runtime: 105 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US


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