Movie review: Here's the dirt on the 'Snitch'

This film image released by Summit Entertainment shows Dwayne Johnson, left, and Barry Pepper in a scene from "Snitch." (AP Photo/Summit Entertainment, Steve Dietl)



Summit Entertainment

1 hour, 52 minutes


It’s rare that I see a movie that I know little to nothing about going in. I’m a major consumer of entertainment news and, whether it’s via the internet or various entertainment magazines, I usually have the lowdown on the movies that showing on any particular week. This week’s desperate father drama, “Snitch,” on the other hand, was a film I was completely in the dark about. Which is odd, considering “Snitch” stars Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. I think Johnson can officially leave “The Rock” behind now, however, as his role in this film is about as Rock-free as any I’ve seen.

“Snitch” is the “inspired by true events” tale of a man who goes to extraordinary lengths to free his son from prison. The film opens on the son in question, Jason, skyping with a ne’er do well friend who asks him to receive a package of ecstasy he’s shipping in to town for a big drug buy. Jason hems and haws, weakly declines, and finally leaves the question unresolved.

Some days later, a mysterious package arrives, which Jason accepts, foolishly, it turns out, as the package is wired by the DEA, who promptly arrest the 18-year-old high school student for felony drug possession with intent to distribute. Bad news. Due to some asinine zero-tolerance policy put in place by well-meaning legislatures, Jason is facing a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in prison, with no option for leeway due to mitigating circumstances, such as “I told that guy not to send it,” and “I’m not a drug dealer.”

This is where dad enters the picture. John Matthews is the owner of a mid-level construction company and when his ex-wife calls to alert him to Jason’s situation, he leaps into action. He consults a lawyer who lets him know that the only way Jason’s sentence can be reduced is if he rolls over on some other drug dealer. Unfortunately for Jason, the only drug dealer he knows is already in custody — the friend who sent the drugs in the first place, and who is currently enjoying a reduced sentence for rolling over on Jason. Sounds like something out of “Catch-22.”

Matthews takes his predicament to the DA, Joanne Keeghan, played by Susan Sarandon, whose response amounts to, essentially, “too bad, so sad.” Matthews then proceeds to trash her office, taking out her two well-armed bodyguards by hand, and then crashes out her second-story window to escape.

No, he doesn’t. That would have been cool, and would have pumped some energy into the film, which to this point was pretty downbeat. What Matthews does do, however, is go out and try to find a drug dealer on his own to ensnare, to offer up to the DA in return for Jason’s release. It doesn’t work, but Keeghan, somewhat bemused by this father’s clumsy efforts to save his son, allows him to go undercover anyway. What follows is a tense descent into the dark underbelly of the drug trade where only a big score will see Jason to freedom.

“Snitch” is certainly serviceable, but there are a lot of problems with it — mostly in the arena of tone and missed opportunities. I was joking earlier about a scene of “Rock-style” carnage, but I think the casting of Johnson in this role was a mistake. He does a fine job, and I think he’s a good actor, but it’s a problem of perception. I kept expecting him to snap someone’s neck and instead we’d just have another scene of him dejectedly going through employee’s criminal records.

This movie would have been world’s better with an actor like Greg Kinnear in it — someone who would seem as though going up against drug dealers was a terrifying proposition. That’s why the Kevin Bacon “Death Sentence” is so much better than it should be — Bacon’s character seems so out of place in that dark world.

Darkness is another aspect “Snitch” could have benefited from. I know it’s “inspired” by true events, but very little ever seems to happen. It’s a little dull, to be honest, until the last few minutes, and the final action sequence stretches believability, either because it’s not well written, or simply because we’ve seen nothing leading up to it.

“Snitch” has the seeds of a good movie and good story in it, but this version doesn’t really do it justice. The acting, writing, and direction are all adequate, without ever really getting interesting. It either needed to be a “Die Hard”-style justice at all costs movie, or a “Straw Dogs” topsy-turvy fish-out-of-water thriller. Instead, it was kind of an ABC Movie of the Week — dull, but passable. Grade: C

“Snitch” is rated PG-13 for drug use, language, and some violence.


Chris Jenness is a freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.