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Vin number Diesel puts his stamp on Lumet's courtroom saga

To all who still, somehow, don't know that Vin Diesel can act, I have two words for you: "Boiler Room." While we're at it, here are two more: "Rent it." Ben Younger's tale of rapacious baby stockbrokers was a first-rate little sleeper of a movie in 2000, and Diesel was, by far, the best thing in it.

And then he turned into a tank-topped, megamillion-dollar action movie star. He also made a string of movies his cat, no doubt, buried in a hurry.

Well, he's an actor again in "Find Me Guilty," and he's a charmer. That will happen when a confused movie star is suddenly conscripted into the cause of a good little movie by an 81-year-old film master who is one of the greatest living American filmmakers. The film master is Sidney Lumet, of "Dog Day Afternoon," "Serpico," "Network" and "Prince of the City" fame. While this is far from the level of his finest work, Lumet has forgotten more about how to make engaging and entertaining movies than 85 percent of his younger colleagues will ever know.

Diesel plays Jackie DiNorscio -- Jackie D. to his buddies -- a very real cokehead drug dealer who turned into the unofficial comic relief and star of the longest criminal conspiracy trial in American history, up to its time (the late '80s).

Because Jackie D. was already serving a 30-year stretch and didn't have as much money as his other defendant pals in New Jersey's Lucchese crime family, he acted as his own attorney with comic but frequently shrewd results. "I'm a gagster, not a gangster," he explains and goes on from there (all of the courtroom dialogue, by the way, is said to be verbatim).

To prove to one and all that Diesel is an actor and not a muscle-bound heartthrob, he "did a De Niro" (i.e., packed on 30 extra pounds and, for good measure, wore a wig that, all by itself, could probably get you arrested anywhere outside of New Jersey).

A connoisseur of the Jersey good life, Jackie D. is the sort of guy who is deeply offended when he's offered A1 Steak Sauce for his steak. "A1 sauce?" he sneers. "A steak should have ketchup."

On the worst day he'll ever have, Lumet can bring out things in actors that other directors don't even see, much less elicit. Peter Dinklage is fine as the attorney who advises Jackie how to proceed and Alex Rocco (Moe Greene in "The Godfather") is truly nasty and chilling as the mob boss.

It's the era of "The Sopranos," I know, but even so you probably don't want to think too hard about how engaging all these drug-dealing, loan-sharking scum are presented to be here. To be frank, I also wish we knew a good deal more about the obsessed prosecutor of the case. If the Lumet of 20 years ago had a go at this story, what would have resulted, I think, is the sort of large, teeming, profane tapestry of which he was a master.

It's still a very entertaining film that purports to tell us about some real-life counterparts to "The Sopranos."

FIND ME GUILTY

REVIEW: 3 stars (Out of 4)

STARRING: Vin Diesel, Alex Rocco, Peter Dinklage and Annabella Sciorra

DIRECTOR: Sidney Lumet

RUNNING TIME: 125 minutes

RATING: R for language and violence.

THE LOWDOWN: Sidney Lumet's tale of the real-life mobster who entertained one and all during the longest criminal conspiracy trial in American history.

e-mail: jsimon@buffnews.com

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