A desperate father tries to save his teenage son from an unjust prison sentence by infiltrating a dangerous drug cartel in Snitch, a ripped-from-the headlines action-adventure from co-writer and director Ric Roman Waugh (Felon).
At one point, Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson was a bankable action star. A studio could put him in any flick - action, comedy, or family - and that film was poised to do very well at the box office. Those days are long gone, and his newest film, Snitch, will reinforce that fact.
Snitch is not a bad action film, mind you; it's actually not an action film at all. The film's story (which claims to be based on true events) follows John Matthews, a self-made businessman that has found success with his own construction company. When Matthews' son, Jason, is arrested for drug possession, he is hit with what is called a 'Mandatory Minimum Sentence,' a bureaucratic mandate that requires anyone in possession of a high volume of drugs be given at least a 10-year prison sentence. Of course, Matthews' son is innocent in all of this - he was only holding the drugs for a friend - but the law won't hear any of it.
So, it is up to Matthews to get his son out of prison...it wouldn't be a Rock movie if he didn't. How he plans to achieve said goal is by setting up a drug dealer that is higher up on the food chain than his son, in this case a drug distributor named Malik. And so, Matthews seeks out the help of one of his employees, a conveniently placed former dealer named Daniel (Jon Bernthal), and as you might expect, he gets in way over his head. What was once a plan to catch Malik in the act of drug distribution, gives way to a fully-fledged, one-man sting operation involving a large cartel.
For a film with a pretty unbelievable premise, Snitch plays out in a fairly predictable fashion. What is surprising, though, is how much of a drama/thriller the film is. Fans who head into Snitch expecting a generic action film courtesy of the Rock will be hugely disappointed, as he barely does anything of consequence. In fact, Jon Bernthal (he of "The Walking Dead" fame) gets more to do action-wise than Johnson, which may leave fans feeling unfulfilled.
That said, the film has its moments, and is actually rather unique in its depiction of the dynamics involved between drug dealers, the police looking to bring them to justice, and the lawyers who are looking to pad their conviction rate. The film gets a little preachy at times, overtly hitting the audience over the head with its core message that our legal system is wholly broken. But aside from that, the story is interesting enough, and Johnson is charismatic enough, that the film is sufficiently entertaining for a B-level drama. It's by no means exceptional, and its story follows the typical beats, but for a movie that is marketed as a generic action film, I was pleasantly surprised, even if my mind wasn't fully engaged. Again, those looking for a white-knuckle thrill ride will not find it here, but they might still enjoy the movie nonetheless.
For the first 30 minutes or so, Snitch is all set-up and foreshadowing. Every little detail, like the conveniently placed banner for Sarandon's character's political campaign or the fact Matthews just happens to notice the presence of Daniel, a new employee, working on his property are all signs that screenwriters Ric Roman Waugh (also the director) and Justin Haythe have no knack for subtlety.
The overly generic plot points, and the stereotypical character archetypes (especially Benjamin Bratt as a Latino drug dealer) feel ham-fisted into a film that is more focused on relaying its message about the mandatory minimum laws than it is anything else. The duo does well to disguise their intent, but this is clearly amateur work at best. Granted, it's a fairly engaging story, but that just might be when compared to most of the schlock that has been released in theaters these past few weeks.
Let's face it: the Rock can't emote. So when a film doesn't focus specifically on The Rock's impressive physique (he doesn't even take his shirt off!), its overall acting quotient is doomed from the start. Moreover, its tense drama will never be fully achieved. Johnson spends most of the film staring wide-eyed, hoping that somehow, by God's good graces, a tear might stream down his face. Spoiler alert: it never comes.
At every turn, Johnson is out-acted by those around him, especially Rafi Gavron as his son, Jason. Susan Sarandon has a pretty wicked turn as a D.A. with political aspirations, a character that emphasizes just how corrupt our entire legal system is. She chews on the scenery more than anyone else in the film, and she gives the audience a decent antagonist - a character that is ultimately on Matthews' side, but is rooting for his success for the wrong reasons.
Overall, Dwayne Johnson just can't carry a movie like this. He has the charisma the fans love, and he imbues John Matthews with enough likeable personality traits that you root for his success, but he brings no pathos to the role. He can stare all he wants, but audiences won't fully connect with his character.
February 22, 2013