By Van Roberts
Arnold Schwarzenegger tangled with the Mexican Drug Cartel in the shoot’em up actioneer “The Last Stand” back in January. This month the Rock wrestles with the same dastards in “Snitch.” “Felon” director Ric Roman Waugh pits the six-foot-four inch former World Wrestling Entertainment champ against hoodlums armed with accents and submachine guns in “Snitch.” This suspenseful but formulaic narcotics caper about a father who plunges himself smack in the middle of a drug war on account of his son telegraphs most of its punches before they land. Our outnumbered protagonist is a fearless father determined to save his son from death in prison at the hands of the inmates. Unfortunately, this loquacious crime thriller suffers from a case of pervasive ‘shaky cam’ cinematography. Happily, “Snitch” shifts gears during its final quarter hour, and Waugh salvages this straightforward melodrama with some smashing automotive derring-do. Before he started calling the shots as a director, Waugh coordinated and performed stunts in the “Lethal Weapon” sequels. Mind you, the Rock has made better movies than “Snitch,” but this white-knuckle epic isn’t an outlandish exercise in gratuitous violence. Waugh and “Revolutionary Road” scenarist Justin Haythe based their humorless undercover crime yarn on an episode of the PBS’ television series “Frontline” that first aired in 1999. In real life, a desperate dad endangered his own life for the sake of his imprisoned 18 year old son. The real-life father helped law enforcement nab narcotics dealers, but the local prosecutor refused to honor their side of the deal. Of course, nothing as treacherous as this transpires in “Snitch” because the filmmakers bathe the Federal Government in a complimentary but gritty light.
In “Snitch,” Dwayne Johnson emerges as a thoroughly charismatic hero. In other words, he doesn’t mutate into a fantastic, larger-than-life, figure like The Scorpion King. As John Matthews, the Rock owns a successful transportation company with a fleet of eighteen wheelers. He resides with current wife, Analisa (Nadine Velazquez of “Flight”) and their young daughter Isabelle (Kyara Campos) in a spacious house. Meantime, Matthews’ former-wife Sylvie (Melina Kanakaredes of “CSI: NY”) and their 18-year old son, Jason (Rafi Gavron of “Mind Games”), have reverted to her maiden name of Collins. As “Snitch” unfolds, Jason accepts a special delivery package from a friend who wants to him to stash his drugs for him. Jason opens the shipping carton, finds a sack of Ecstasy pills, and then spots a DEA signal transmitter. Moments later, Agent Cooper (a bewhiskered Barry Pepper of “Saving Private Ryan”) and his team storm Jason’s house. They pursue the terrified lad on foot and in cars through the streets until they corner him. As Sylvie and John learn in courthouse, Jason’s so-called friend struck a deal with Federal authorities to reduce his own prison sentence by implicating somebody else. Although Jason admits he has smoked pot in the past, he doesn’t abuse drugs and hasn’t taken anything like the Ecstasy pills in his friend’s package. Nevertheless, the amount of MDMA that the DEA caught him with lands him in prison for a ten-year stretch. Naturally, John is as stunned as Sylvie is distraught, while U.S. Attorney Joanne Keeghan (Susan Sarandon of “The Banger Sisters”) refuses to cut John any deals.
John Matthews decides to take matters into his own hands. He persuades an employee on his payroll with a criminal record, David James (Jon Bernthal of “The Walking Dead”), to introduce him to a notorious drug dealer. This kind of unethical behavior on the part of our hero reflects just how desperate he is to intervene for his son. Earlier, John tried to infiltrate the local street gangs and gotten beaten up for his trouble. Eventually, David James comes around and takes John to talk with a two-time loser, Malik (Michael K. Williams of “Gone Baby Gone”), who proves to be a pretty shrewd gangsta. James and Malik, it seems, knew each other before James decided to go straight for the sake of his wife and son. John convinces Malik that he needs the money to bolster his declining business. Afterward, John sneaks back to give Keeghan his news, and Agent Cooper provides him with back-up. Basically, John plans to let Malik use his tractor-trailers to traffick in narcotics. During the illegal deal, John and James barely escape, but their initial misfortune turns out to be fortunate. Whereas John had negotiated a deal to hand Malik to her on a platter, he has an even bigger offer for her. The local leader of the Mexican Cartel (Benjamin Bratt of “Catwoman”) contacts John in person because he believes there is a place for him in their criminal family.
The filmmakers turn up the heat on our hero. When John sees Jason in prison, our hero is shocked by his son’s battered appearance. Apparently, Jason isn’t holding up too well behind bars, and this compels John to fight even harder. The problem is John has gotten himself in too deep. The suspense mounts when cartel gunmen pay a surprise visit to John’s house. Moreover, they learn about Jason through a uniformed contact in the prison, and the pressure rises for our hero to perform. The cartel wants him to drive a fortune in cash, approximately $83-million in greenbacks, in the trailer of an eighteen wheeler to the border. John suspects they mean to kill him. Agent Cooper warns him to be vigilant.
“Snitch” is an okay actioneer. The sensational driving stunts pump up the film. Meantime, the supporting cast spends most of the time on the fringes. Sarandon’s prosecutor rarely leaves her office, while Barry Pepper stays out of the Rock’s way. Benjamin Bratt has little time to develop his characterization of a lethal cartel drug leader beyond the stereotypes that we have grown accustomed to in these movies. Similarly, Melina Kanakaredes is confined to the sidelines. Essentially, “Snitch” implicates the mandatory-sentencing laws that compelled a father to fend for his son. Ironically, the same laws Waugh’s movie rants against serve to bring down the villains.
By Van Roberts