Movie review: Even The Rock's heroics can't save 'Snitch' from an overdose of simplicity
Aw c'mon. It's Dwayne Johnson, the wrestler once known as The Rock.
When his character in "Snitch" is left bleeding and bruised on the ground after a confrontation with a handful of street punks selling drugs, you think he normally would have dispatched them without breaking a sweat.
But in "Snitch," he's the owner of a Missouri construction company whose college-bound son from his first marriage is arrested after foolishly agreeing to accept delivery of a box with 2,000 Ecstasy pills. Jason (Rafi Gavron), 18, is charged with distribution of narcotics and learns a friend implicated him to lighten his own sentence.
2 stars = Mediocre
Dwayne Johnson, Barry Pepper, Susan Sarandon, Jon Bernthal, Michael K. Williams.
PG-13 for drug content and sequences of violence.
Unless Jason can hand the feds someone else, he will face at least 10 years in prison under mandatory minimum sentencing laws. Jason isn't exactly a street tough, and after just a few days behind bars, he already shows a split lip, blackened eyes and other signs of being bullied.
Jason refuses to set up anyone else, but his dad, John Matthews, pitches an ambitious U.S. attorney (Susan Sarandon) on going undercover himself to drastically reduce Jason's sentence.
She eventually agrees to cut Jason's time behind bars if John can deliver an airtight arrest for at least half a kilo of cocaine. A businessman who started his research of drug cartels with a Wiki search has to hatch a scheme to follow through, even as he safeguards his second wife and young daughter who enjoy a prosperity Jason never had.
"Snitch" opens with a note that it was "inspired by" (not based on) true events. The impetus was a 1999 PBS "Frontline" special about how a shift in the anti-drug laws -- including federal mandatory minimum sentences and conspiracy provisions -- bred a culture of snitching.
One of the cases it examined was that of an 18-year-old college student who had a friend who asked if he could get 1,000 hits of acid for him and pestered him until he did. The pal set him up, the teen was busted and got 10 years.
Information on the "Frontline" website says federal agents enlisted his father to frame others, but that didn't have a made-for-movie ending.
"Snitch" plays like an overly long TV movie from the 1980s, complete with oppressive, omnipresent music that wants to remind us it might be dangerous to mess with the head of a drug cartel. Of course, Mr. Johnson is usually invincible so we're not as afraid as we might be if the dad were played by a weakling who might easily wilt.
Although set mainly in Missouri, "Snitch" was filmed in Shreveport, La., which robs the movie of authentic color and sense of place. Director and co-writer Ric Roman Waugh is a former stuntman and he executes some nifty chase and accident scenes.
But he has something of a wooden ear when it comes to dialogue and characters are developed in anemic fashion. Some, such as Barry Pepper as a DEA agent with funky facial hair and Michael K. Williams as a drug dealer, can transcend that while others, such as Jon Bernthal as an ex-convict, Ms. Sarandon and the actresses playing John's wives, cannot.
A fictional story may never be as compelling, complete or up to date as a documentary or TV special. "Snitch" simplifies the matter to the point of ridiculousness, no matter how much we root for Mr. Johnson to bust through the criminal justice system the way he mows down a fence from the driver's seat of an 18-wheeler.
First Published February 22, 2013 12:00 am