Published Feb 21, 2013The Rundown hit theatres ten years ago, and it felt a great deal like a baton-passing film, with Dwayne Johnson (still credited as "the Rock," at the time) taking over Arnold Schwarzenegger's pop culture status as the obscenely muscular action hero for a generation. Hell, Schwarzenegger even had a cameo in the film, bumping into Johnson and muttering, "have fun" before he went off to become Governor.
Yet Johnson's career hasn't exactly evolved that way. Instead of making the type of big-budget action films that could take advantage of his natural charisma and physicality, Hollywood pushed its ample resources towards superheroes, while Johnson made a string of family comedies (The Game Plan, The Tooth Fairy) that played on the idea of Johnson-as-Schwarzenegger-ian-action-hero, even if it wasn't necessarily true. A similar narrative holds true for Vin Diesel, who, like Dwayne Johnson, now bides his time appearing in mediocre sequels to The Fast and the Furious.
Even when Hollywood does give Johnson an ostensibly "adult" action film to star in it turns out like Snitch, a low-budget thriller that begins like an afterschool special and ends with a DEA sting that would feel undercooked on an especially poor episode of Breaking Bad.
Johnson plays John Matthews, a divorced St. Louis father whose son (Rafi Gavron) faces ten years in prison for purchasing a giant bag full of MDMA pills; his first and only offence. In order to reduce his son's sentence, Johnson infiltrates a local drug operation (whose boss is played by The Wire's Michael K. Williams) for the stubborn and probably Republican District Attorney (Susan Sarandon) and a ridiculously goateed DEA agent (Barry Pepper).
The first half of the film makes a good point about American mandatory minimum drug laws (not unlike the tough-on-crime laws the Conservative party pushed through in Canada last year) and how they end up punishing first-time offenders rather than the gangs that actually drive drug traffic.
The scenario almost could have played like a social-realist drama about an unjust legal system, but writers Ric Roman Waugh and Justin Haythe go to great lengths to fill their screenplay with exposition about the laws and to create contrived family drama that's written to represent some unattainably average American archetype of family life.
Beyond the well-meaning intentions of the filmmakers, nothing about Snitch works, from the clunky action set pieces to the caricatured cartel boss played by Benjamin Bratt. Waugh, who also directs, is a former stuntman whose previous directorial experience is limited to a couple direct-to-video actioners (In the Shadows, Felon) — and it shows.
The best place for Snitch is on your list of Netflix recommendations, never to be actually seen. (Alliance)