Just to be clear, Snitch is not an action movie, nor is it much of a thriller. The film’s marketing campaign may suggest otherwise, but the actual product is no more than Dwayne Johnson’s bumbling attempt at serious acting. With Denzel Washington apparently too busy to phone in another crusading everyman role, Johnson’s John Matthews goes undercover for the DEA in exchange for the freedom of his wrongfully imprisoned son Jason (Rafi Gavron). Johnson, however, is no Washington and through its reliance upon a performer with minimal dramatic nuance incapable of providing the pathos demanded of the part, Ric Roman Waugh’s film consistently comes up short.
Featuring Johnson in nearly every scene, the film is limited from the start, but the script by Waugh and Justin Haythe further handicaps itself through a series of simplistic turns. For a movie based on a true story, the suspension of disbelief is considerably high as decisions that seemingly warrant much mulling are brushed over in the name of speeding the narrative along. Despite his superhuman physique, John is a quiet, successful businessman foreign to violence or any degree of danger. The very idea that such a man would conceive of infiltrating the deadly drug world is a stretch, let alone do so for a son with whom he’s admittedly distant. Yet that’s the premise on which Snitch hinges, and once established, the ease with which John’s scheme falls into place weakens the film’s already shoddy infrastructure.
In baffling succession, characters brush off John’s ill-conceived pleas for help only to cave after minimal mental wrestling. Like weak-willed parents who quickly give in to a child’s whining, D.A. Joanne Keeghan (Susan Sarandon) and DEA agent Cooper (Barry Pepper, rocking a killer goatee) put up comically little resistance before involving this inexperienced, overly-emotional man in an operation that both hold dear.
While such waffling could be viewed as a weakness of the film’s good guys, the criminal-minded fare equally well as pushovers. The entry point to this underworld, Snitch offers up John’s ex-con employee Daniel James (Jon Bernthal), carefully presents him as a man of integrity intent on staying out of trouble, then has him throw his principles all away for a marginal payday. In the film’s universe, a son chatting with low-level thugs and a waitress wife equates to a miserable existence, and thereby validates risking the entire family’s stability on his boss’ harebrained scheme. Just as bad are the actual co-signing gangsters, including the gullible Malik (Michael Kenneth Williams), who buys squeaky-clean John’s economic sob story without question, and “El Topo” (Benjamin Bratt), a hilariously trusting kingpin. With bad guys this open to green outsiders, it’s a wonder they don’t join hands with John and sing “Kum Ba Ya.”
Along the way, the beatings Jason endures in prison and John’s questions from his young second wife Analisa (Nadine Velazquez) attempt to elevate John’s urgency and that of the situation at large. The final outcome, however, is never truly in doubt and within the confines of a PG-13 rating, the terror of what should be a frightening ordeal barely peeks through. Sporting a mere two action sequences (both of which are undermined by Antonio Pinto’s dulcet score), Snitch is a snoozer through and through. Out of his element with even this elementary material, Johnson consistently proves inadequate for the dialogue-heavy drama, and despite his best efforts comes off looking as bored as the unfortunate souls out in the audience.
Rated PG-13 for drug content and sequences of violence.
Snitch is currently playing at the Carolina Cinemas on Hendersonville Rd.