As a child of the 80′s, I grew up loving the “ABC Afterschool Special”. I guess I never really gave much thought to the social importance of these cheesy little shows, nor did I realize how bad they really were. Going back now, watching these things are not unlike watching “Reefer Madness” with the joke being the not very subtle (and often too heavy-handed) “message”; the very quality that redeemed such schlock.
In 2004, Participant Media, then known as Participant Productions, was founded as a socially relevant alternative to the empty calorie offerings of mainstream Hollywood pictures. Their latest release, “Snitch”, produced by and starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, is a movie with a message.
That message: The Rock might want to avoid dramas.
“Snitch” is proudly inspired by real events. Inspired is the key word here – this is in no way a true story. It’s this kind of stretched truth that is so often called out in the food industry. Sort of like a juice drink that contains only 10% juice. I’m sure Participant, with its desire to educate, thinks the moviegoing public is too stupid to know the difference. I’m sure they’re right. But if you leave this movie thinking it’s in any way realistic, you should’ve spent the last two hours watching Sesame Street instead.
John Matthews (Johnson) is a wealthy businessman. He owns a successful construction/trucking company, has a beautiful wife, an adorable young daughter and lives in a dream house. His life is suddenly turned upside down when his estranged son from another marriage, Jason (Rafi Gavron), receives a package from his best friend containing 2000 pills of ecstasy. Even though Jason never agreed to accept the pills, the moment he opens the parcel, the DEA storms the house and books him for intent to distribute. It turns out, his friend got pinched before mailing the drugs, so in exchange for a lesser sentence, he set Jason up, then snitched on him.
The minimum sentence for this offense is ten years unless “Baby Rock” can snitch on another dealer – innocent or otherwise. Unwilling to screw anyone else over and unable to name a legitimate dealer, Jason accepts his fate. But wait, there’s hope! As his son regularly gets his ass kicked in prison, John meets with US District Attorney Joanne Keeghan (Susan Sarandon) and makes a deal to hunt down drug dealers in exchange for a reduced sentence.
With the help of an ex-con employed by his company (Jon Bernthal), John meets a psychopathic dealer who brings him on board to start transporting dope. It doesn’t take long for John to work his way up the cartel’s food chain and he’s soon working directly for the kingpin. But being an election year, the deeper he gets, the more greedy Keeghan gets. As she keeps him embedded longer and longer, the question looms: Can John get out of this alive and rescue his son?
Director/co-writer Ric Roman Waugh manages to keep a fair amount of tension throughout the film, but the acting is incredibly wooden and not believable. Characters often become caricatures spouting lines of bad, cliché-ridden dialogue. Now don’t get me wrong, I love The Rock and he’s got charisma to spare in this picture, but I feel like Waugh let him coast on this virtue alone. If it weren’t for some incredibly human and emotional scenes between Bernthal and his wife and the finesse of acting vet Susan Sarandon, this movie would’ve been more at home in a 4pm slot on network TV.
But dialogue isn’t the script’s only issue. The film has the potential to be an intense psychological drama complete with moments where you wonder what you would do in a similar situation. However, things get too big too fast and begin to unravel from there. Instead of trying to genuinely work his way in and take down the initial drug boss (a worthy adversary for the film on his own), Waugh has John working for the head of the ENTIRE cartel after one run. Then the feds want to take down the whole operation after John’s second run in which he’s entrusted to move 80 MILLION DOLLARS worth of drug money out of the country. It’s this second run where the movie lets you stop thinking altogether and becomes a low-rent Rambo film.
But it’s cool… inspired by true events, remember?
After the bloodbath-on-a-budget ending, a little paragraph comes up to drive home the point that the minimum sentence for a first time drug distributor is longer than that of a rapist. How enlightening. It’s like handing someone an entire lemon meringue pie for dinner then saying that your cooking just helped them prevent scurvy.
“Snitch” is worth 2 out of 4 angels. Dwayne Johnson fans, probably won’t care either way if his acting isn’t up to snuff, but those looking for a solid crime drama are sure to be disappointed. If you go in expecting the world’s most violent after school special, you just might have a fun time – but you’d be wise to wait and watch it at home. 4pm. Like the old days.