This action picture thinks too much

By The Mercury

“Snitch” is a movie made with ulterior motives. On the one hand it is an action movie starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, TV wrestler and veteran Hollywood misfit. On the other hand, “Snitch” is an attempt to dramatize some of the complaints one hears about American law enforcement practices.

The film is a little better as social commentary than it is as straight adventure picture.  The problem with the action movie story is that it keeps pausing to think. Of the roughly two hours of screen time, there may only be fifteen minutes when someone is shooting, punching, or driving fast. Loud arguing might take up another five screen minutes.

In this “based on a true” story, Johnson plays Matthews, the owner of a Missouri construction company. His teenage son has a friend who has been caught with a quantity of illegal drugs. The friend has turned snitch in order to get friendly treatment from the local prosecutor, a politician campaigning for a Congressional seat. The DA is played by Susan Sarandon.

The snitch has named the younger Matthews as a collaborator and has arranged for him to hold some dope long enough to be arrested in possession. Now the innocent kid is charged with a crime the punishment for which is a ten year sentence. But he can get charged something lower if he will set up some of his friends for arrest in the same way his buddy did him.

I’m sorry to say, this seems plausible. And if the story were set in Manhattan, Kansas instead of in the state of misery, it would still seem plausible. If more local cases went to trial instead of being settled with pleas, I wonder if we wouldn’t read that the same snitch witnesses appeared in case after case. Surely judges would get suspicious then.

Young Matthews refuses to set up easy arrests for the cops and prosecutor. So his father offers to help get a conviction or two of someone who is really villainous. In return, the d.a. offers to reduce the charge against the son (who is beaten up in jail).

So the contractor picks out a two-time loser from among his employees and asks him for an introduction to a drug dealer. Malik, rich but living in a hovel, immediately sees that he can use Matthews, driving one of his construction company semi-trucks, as a drug courier. But during the delivery the head cop (Barry Peppers) hears that next time Matthews may be used in a deal with a Mexican cartel operative called Juan Carlos (Benjamin Bratt).

So Malik goes free, Matthews is set up for another run and is promised his son will be freed immediately. And then the plot gets complicated, as the construction boss sets up his own self-protecting plot within a plot within a plot. The climax action includes cars full of drug thugs shooting automatic weapons at a semi-truck that is rocking down the interstate.

But there isn’t enough of that kind of action in “Snitch.” And while the discussion of how untrustworthy witnesses are used to trap their acquaintances for the authorities is significant and relatively clear, that business gets buried in Matthews’s late reveries, meetings with his kid in jail, discussions with his wives, plotting with cops and his formerly-crooked employee, and so on.

There are better action movies showing right now. This is too bad, because the film’s indictment of law enforcement procedures is probably fair and something we ought to be talking about.

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