Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is the closest thing we have to a classic 80’s action star in films today. He has the physique of an in-his-prime Schwarzenegger, the natural charisma of a Stallone, and the acting ability of a Willis. Too bad he finds it difficult to land a good enough movie to let all those skills shine.
If you’ve seen the ads for Snitch, then you’d think that the film was an action movie. Except for maybe five minutes in the middle of the film and the last 10-15 minutes, it’s not. The rest of the time, it’s an issue-probing drama. And trying to make the two types films mesh is Stitch’s downfall.
Supposedly inspired by true events (but I think little more than a Frontline documentary on the mandatory minimum sentencing for drug offenders served as inspiration), Johnson plays John Matthews, the successful owner of a construction company. One day, he gets a call from his estranged ex-wife. Jason, his son with her, begrudgingly agreed to accept a package of drugs from a faraway friend. But the friend in reality set Jason up for a fall and he finds himself staring at a mandatory minimum 10 year sentence for the trumped up charge of intent to distribute.
The Feds really aren’t interested in Jason, they want to get more drugs off the street. If he could sell out other dealers, his sentence could be reduced. Problem is, he really is a good kid and knows no other drug dealers. The only way he could give the Feds what they want would be to frame his other friends the way his friend framed him.
This is where daddy comes in. He makes a deal US Attorney Janet Keegan (Susan Sarandon)–he’ll use his construction company to haul drugs for the local drug dealers, all the while working with the Feds to bring the dealers down and reduce his son’s sentence. But things soon get too big for John to handle when cartel member “El Topo” (Benjamin Bratt) takes an interest in him.
Johnson does a great job acting here, more than holding his own in a cast filled of Emmy, Tony and Golden Globe nominees (and in several scenes with the sole Oscar winner of the cast too). He plays the part with a earnestness that sells the character. He makes us believe that his character truly believes that the cockamamie scheme presented to him will work even though the script does nothing to convince us of the same.
Another failing of the script is the characters. Well, wait, “characters” might be too strong a description for what appears in this movie. They are the stock repertory of almost every drug drama ever made, with stellar actors to spin a teeny bit of gold from the straw they were given. Sarandon is the US Attorney with political aspirations looking for a conviction at any cost. Barry Pepper is the jaded narco cop with intriguing facial hair and a heart of gold. Jon Bernathal is the ex-con desperately trying to go straight but pull back into his old life against his will. And Bratt plays a 8th or 9th generation of Tony Montana. They all play stereotypes, but all of the actors bring enough to the roles to at least make it interesting versions of these stereotypes.
Where the script fail the film and its message condemning the mandatory minimum sentencing policy for drug offenders is in its final act, which is a full-on pair of interwoven action scenes–one a car/semi chase on a highway, one a shootout at a crackhouse. This ending appears to be the textbook definition of “tacked on,” like someone discovered that a film starring the Rock was in danger of ending without a car exploding and, well, we just can’t have that.
What’s worse is that ending just doesn’t work. Not to spoil it for anyone, but the actions of both protagonists in finale fly completely in the face of their characterizations up to that point of the film. In other words, the characters do things that they haven’t done in the film up to that point, and really wouldn’t do at all based on what we’ve learned over the course of the film. Add this to the fact that the plan concocted in the final act doesn’t really make sense anyway you look at it and essentially makes an earlier plot twist seem especially stupid. It’s like the film had a psychotic break at the end of act two.
If the ending kept more in line with the rest of the movie–if it became a natural progression of more dramatic story line and didn’t delve into action movie hell, it might have been a better movie. As it stands, it’s a handful of good to great performances wasted on a substandard script.