Movie review: Snitch

05:00 AM, Feb 23, 2013

Dwayne Johnson, left, and Melina Kanakaredes in 'Snitch.' (Steve Dietl/AP)/

Written By Barbara VanDenburghRodney said | The Arizona Republic

Snitch is the sort of film that opens with an “inspired by true events” disclaimer, in this case included less in the interest of accuracy and effective storytelling and more in the interest of making the ridiculous story to come easier for audiences to swallow.

Still, for all its lunkheadedness, Snitch is a shockingly deeper, less action-oriented affair than one would expect of a movie directed by a former stuntman, Ric Roman Waugh, and starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, a fixture of the professional wrestling world.

Johnson expands on his range respectably as John Matthews, family man and well-to-do owner of a construction business. He’s actually on his second family, living in a veritable mansion with his young wife and toddler daughter, both cute as buttons. Meanwhile, Matthews’ oldest son from his first marriage, Jason, is flailing a bit at home with his single mother, and he agrees to let a ne’er-do-well friend of his ship a bag full of ecstasy pills to his house (because he’s cool like that, and also because he kind of wants to try some).

It’s a large-enough shipment of ecstasy that it tips off the DEA, who show up on Jason’s doorstep along with the pills. Enough ecstasy, in fact, to land the kid in cuffs with the promise of a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years for conspiracy to distribute.

It’s an intentionally harsh law designed to encourage those caught within its snares to snitch on lawbreakers higher up on the food chain in exchange for a reduced sentenced. It’s also a law that seems, paradoxically, to benefit high-level drug offenders, who have a broader pool of people to narc on, while screwing someone like Jason, a dumb kid with no connections who shivers in prison like a soaking wet chihuahua.

It’s an injustice that would make for a far more compelling movie if its consequences were explored in depth. Instead, we’re treated to preposterous vigilante justice in the form of Matthews begging a she-demon federal prosecutor (Susan Sarandon) to let his son off the hook if he can net some bad guys in his stead. Incredibly, she agrees, and soon he’s gunning for a big-time Mexican drug cartel.

I know, I know — “inspired” by true events. Balderdash.

Not that it would have to make sense if it were a little more entertaining. Matthews’ pursuit of his son’s freedom is often an odd slog. While Johnson performs admirably in the drama-heavy role — far better than many of his action-hero colleagues would manage — John Matthews is a character as boring as his name. His life seems unlived-in, from his pristine showroom house to the pretty wife and daughter who feel like they were selected from a catalog.

It becomes clear as the plot gains steam that the movie chose to focus on the wrong character. In his desperation to make contacts in the drug trade, Matthews turns to an ex-con employee at his construction company, Daniel James (Jon Bernthal), a family man struggling to get his messy life on the straight and narrow. Bernthal is moving as a desperate man caught between two worlds — between wanting to set a good example for his young son and wanting to provide for him financially.

James’ story would have made for a better movie. Instead, we’re stuck with one that’s merely sufficient. Oh well. Some cars still blow up real good.