For a lot of people, the only reason they'll turn out for a movie like Snitch is to see Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson. A phenomenal pro wrestling superstar who made the jump into acting with incredible ease, he's perhaps the most successful Hollywood leading man to ever escape the squared circle. With his wide smile, physicality, and natural charisma, Johnson has succeeded in roles where he can show aggression and charm. Neither of those is called upon in Snitch, an inert bore that can't decide if it’s a message-movie or an action flick.
Directed by Ric Roman Waugh, who helmed the mediocre crime film, Felon, Snitch has a really important point it wants to make. That point is that the drug laws in this country are royally screwed up, and it's mainly due to political opportunism that they aren't fixed post haste. The point is made fairly early on, so that the next 90 minutes are a pointless slog. Johnson plays John Matthews, a tough family man John Matthews, owner of a construction company that employs a lot of ex-cons. That's really all you need to know about him. When his naive son Jesse makes the bonehead move of accepting a FedEx package of drugs (!!?!?) sent by a friend, the cops quickly raid the house and take him in for custody.
An ugly situation is made all the more tense by John's broken relationship with his son after a divorce. The script hints at John's own dark past, and a desire to not see his son go down the same route. It's a goal he's failed at for the moment, made worse by learning drug charges could send his son to prison for more than a decade. Taking his pleas of leniency to a district attorney (Susan Sarandon) with Congressional ambitions, he learns the only way to shave a few years off is for Jesse to snitch on his friends. Jesse refuses, and John convinces them to let him go undercover instead. Rat out a major drug dealer and Jesse goes free.
It's a pretty dry and long-winded set up before anything actually happens, but when it does it still feels like nothing's going on Nobody pays to see The Rock rifling through paperwork and hitting the Internet to look up drug cartels, but that's what they'll get for a solid hour. Eventually, things pick up a little with the introduction of The Walking Dead's Jon Bernthal as Daniel, a former convict with enough street cred to set John up with a local drug dealer played by The Wire's Michael K. Williams. It's a retread of a part for Williams, but Bernthal scores some solid moments as a Dad trying to keep his young son out of the gangster life.
While we're shown all of the reasons why the system is messed up, we're not given any reason to like or care about John or his plan. He remains a blank slate for the most part, except for a tiny hint of manipulative edge as he keeps Daniel in the dark about what he's trying to accomplish. Once Daniel finds out, and realizes his entire family has been put at risk, the film finds its one true moment of tension. Unfortunately it's short-lived, and a smash of random car chases and high-powered shoot outs just feel tacked on. Even worse, Johnson isn't really an active participant in most of the action. Benjamin Bratt puts on a lousy Pablo Escobar act and leads a massive firefight against an invading cartel, while Johnson spends the scene hiding then running away. Again, not what anybody paid to see, right?
The film is based on a supposedly true story chronicled in a Frontline documentary about how current federal drug policies are forcing people to snitch on one another. Pretty sure it didn't feature machine gun fights and big rigs in highway car chases. When the action does happen, it's so ridiculous and over-the-top that it squashes any attempt at realism Waugh, who also wrote the script, had been trying to portray. The film doesn't investigate our drug policy with even the faintest depth, but it's not really an action movie, either. So what the heck is it?
Snitch would have been better served if it was just like one of Johnson's prior hits, Walking Tall. A determined father goes undercover to save his son and brutally beats down drug lords with his 2x4. That movie's worth paying to see. Snitch...well, not so much.