Jason (Ravi Gavron) has done a very stupid thing. His friend gets him to accept a parcel delivery, knowing that it is a load of thousands of ecstasy pills. Out of curiosity, he opens the package only to find out it is a DEA plant – and a trap. Sent off to prison and, since he will not be an informant, Jason relies on his dad, John (Dwayne Johnson), to make things right so he will not have to be a “Snitch.”
I tried to do a network search for movies about fathers saving sons from prison because of a framed drug deal. I did not get any hits, probably because the subject is boring. As is “Snitch,” a Hollywood glamorized, ”based on a true story” story (seriously, The Rock as a schlemiel business owner turned action figure? I get the action hero part but not the white collar business owner).
The loose story is tied together with the usual array of stunts chases and crashes. Early on, we learn that John has bought a couple of tractor-trailer rigs. When they are delivered, it is almost as if we can hear the filmmakers rub their hands with glee and saying, “Oh, boy! We have tractor-trailers!!!” It is no surprise when they appear as the big finale plays out.
Stunt man turned writer-director Ric Roman Waugh makes an average action thriller that lacks a believable story, characters you can sympathize with and actors who are committed to the project. Dwayne Johnson is thoroughly mediocre, probably because his character is earnest, put upon and resourceful but without a sense of humor – one of the wresting star’s greatest assets.
The “name” actors brought aboard – Susan Sarandon (federal prosecutor), Barry Pepper (undercover detective) and Benjamin Bratt (mysterious, deadly mob boss) – are little more than window dressing and without real significance. The only character that garners any real sympathy is Jon Bernal as the ex-con employee, David, who John coerces to help him infiltrate the highest levels of the drug cartel to protect his son.
Techs are average, too, with the obligatory car chases and shootouts taking place at regular intervals – once the very long set up is done. The Louisiana locations are not notable, like the rest of the film. This is the right time of year for a film like “Snitch” to get theatrical release. The dearth of new movies at the multiplex and Dwayne Johnson’s draw may make for a lucrative opening weekend but not beyond. I give it a C-.
When his 18-year-old son Jason (Rafi Gavron, "Celeste & Jesse Forever") is framed for drug distribution carrying a mandatory 10 year sentence, John Matthews (Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson) uses to get connections to talk to U.S. Attorney Joanne Keeghan (Susan Sarandon). She tells them that the only way to reduce the sentence is by delivering another dealer to her office. The only one Jason knows is the friend who turned on him and he refuses to set up an innocent, so John looks through his employee records to find an ex-con who can help him turn "Snitch."
co-writer (with Justin Haythe, "Revolutionary Road")/director Ric Roman Waugh ("Felon") highlights one of the many pitfalls of the U.S. Government's War on Drugs inspired by a real life incident but loses much of the impact of the statement he's trying to make with herky jerky plotting and an immoral protagonist. Johnson's out of his element playing more of a dramatic role than straight ahead action figure or Disney fixture and cannot make up for his character's flaws.
John owns a successful construction company and lives in a McMansion with second wife Isabelle (Kyara Campos) where they are celebrating their young daughter's birthday when he hears from his hysterical ex Sylvie Collins (Melina Kanakaredes, TV's 'Providence,' 'CSI: NY'). When Jason refuses to work with the law, John proposes he take Jason's place. He's denied until he returns with a plot to nab known drug dealer Malik (Michael K. Williams, HBO's 'Boardwalk Empire') by using his semi to transport the man's product. He's used employee Daniel James (Jon Bernthal, TV's 'The Walking Dead'), a family man intent on going straight after two strikes by dangling the promise of $20K, money Daniel sees as the path to getting his own young son away from neighborhood thugs. But when the transfer takes place, Malik is heard mentioning his own source, Juan Carlos 'El Topo' Pintera (Benjamin Bratt, " Piñero," TV's 'Private Practice'), and the agent (Barry Pepper, "True Grit," "Broken City") on site makes the decision to unhook Malik to go after the bigger fish. John's now up against a Mexican Cartel who knows who his family is. The only thing that's keeping him undercover is the fact that his jailed son has a different last name.
Roman Waugh alternately hits his audience over the head with plot points (the introduction of Daniel, a pointed name assumption by a Lantino prison guard) and fails to convince with others (John and Jason's estrangement). But the real problem is that John is never sympathetic because he first encourages his son to set up an innocent friend to save his skin, then puts an entirely sympathetic man into a life-changing situation with a lie. Performances range all over the map.
Stuntman Roman Waugh does know how to stage an action sequence, including a shootout in a scrap metal yard and a suspenseful trailer chase. Original Music by Antonio Pinto ("Senna," "Get the Gringo") avoids the same old, same old. Barry Pepper, with an undercover ZZ Top beard, reminds us how much color he can add to a film and Jon Bernthal walks away with all audience sympathy. Even Michael K. Williams as the lower level criminal creates a more sympathetic character than Johnson, whose sole trait is determination. Kanakaredes, Campos and Nadine Velazquez ("Flight") as Daniel's wife Analisa are interchangeable.
The recent documentary "The House I Live In" made a strong case against America's War on Drugs. It is unfortunate that a commercial feature which stood to bring at least part of the issue to a wider audience has mostly fumbled it.
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