2/28/13 - Dwayne Johnson knows that the 60-year-old Liam Neeson has gotta lay off the action some day and would like you to consider him for the Taken reboot with Snitch.
Physically imposing? Check! Able to make fighting look realistic enough? Yep! Dishy without being too much of a pretty boy? Why, yes. And, Johnson is reasonably good with both drama (or, you know, “drama,” since it’s not like The Grey, the Neeson movie about wolves, really needed a Daniel Day Lewis level of method acting) and comedy (see, for example, his Saturday Night Live appearance). I’m thinking, 2018, a movie where Johnson rescues his daughter (played by Willow Smith) from kidnappers, maybe has to travel to Brazil and India, to help with the overseas box office. You’re welcome, Johnson’s agent; I will accept 1 percent of gross.
Here, John Matthews (Johnson) has to work on rescuing his son, Jason (Rafi Gavron). Jason, a high school senior who is mere months away from heading off to college, moronically half-agrees to accept a package of pills mailed to him by an older buddy. He signs for the drugs and mere moments later the DEA shows up to arrest him. He faces 10 years in federal prison (thanks to the mandatory minimums, which this movie is very much against) unless he, like the buddy who sent him the drugs, is able to help them set up and arrest someone else. But Jason doesn’t know any drug dealers except the one who rolled on him, so now he is facing hard time instead of keg parties.
John, desperate to save his son, asks the U.S. attorney, Joanne Keeghan (Susan Sarandon), if he can be the one to help the DEA make an arrest. Since he owns a construction company and several trucks perfect for transporting illegal substances over state lines, he offers to worm his way in to a drug dealer’s operations and set him up for arrest. He gets Daniel (Jon Bernthal), an ex-con who works for him, to help him meet Malik (Michael Kenneth Williams), the man who oversees a large swath of the local drug dealers. But a chance meeting with Juan Carlos Pintera (Benjamin Bratt), a higher-up in a Mexican drug cartel, has Keeghan thinking that John might lead her to make an even more high-profile arrest. Of course, the bigger the fish, the bigger the danger for John and his family.
Snitch is a very medium-speed effort — nothing too fancy but nothing is glaringly wrong with it either. The movie pushes its stance against mandatory minimum sentencing for drug cases like it’s trying to get us to donate money and collect signatures and probably could have shaved off at least one of the many speeches about how bad they are. (There isn’t a lot else going on in this movie, so after the first half-dozen scenes laying out the problem with mandatory minimums we pretty much get it.) Additionally, the final set-piece action sequence isn’t brilliantly executed and comes to a rather abrupt ending. But nothing is so shabby it pulls you out of the story. Bernthal (poor, crazy Shane of The Walking Dead), Bratt, Williams and Sarandon are all grown up enough actors that everything feels about 25 percent better — smarter, smoother, just better — than you suspect it would otherwise be.
And then there’s Johnson, who (not unlike Neeson) is just fun to watch. He’s charismatic and personable without being showy or goofy (OK, maybe he’s a touch goofy, but in a way that’s still endearing). Here, he has to play a guy who can be tough but who isn’t a “tough guy.” His Matthews is a straight arrow family guy who has to pretend to be a little crooked, but still like enough of a “normal” person so as not to tip off the criminals he deals with that he is the titular snitch. It’s not such a difficult part but it does have some more meat to it than The Scorpion King, his first non-The Rock role that most people saw.
Whatever flaws the Snitch has, they are small enough and its cast is strong enough that you can let the nitpicking go and buy in to the story. C+
Rated PG-13 for drug content and sequences of violence. Directed by Ric Roman Waugh with a screenplay by Justin Haythe and Ric Roman Waugh, Snitch is an hour and 52 minutes long and is distributed by Summit Entertainment.