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'Snitch' has an identity crisis, critics say

February 22, 2013|By Oliver Gettell
  • Dwayne Johnson in "Snitch."
Dwayne Johnson in "Snitch." (Steve Dietl / Summit Entertainment )

"Snitch," the new crime drama starring pro-wrestler-turned-actor Dwayne Johnson, gives the big guy a chance to flex his acting muscles. He portrays a concerned father who cuts a draconian deal with a U.S. attorney to save his son, who's been framed in a drug distribution case.

But just as Johnson can't quite shake his wrestling alter ego, "the Rock," the movie also seems to have a split personality. According to many movie reviews, the film tries to be both an action spectacle and a serious social drama, and it doesn't nail either one.

The Times' Betsy Sharkey writes, "If you believe the trailers, 'Snitch' … is a jampacked action thriller … But what the movie is really about is a war-on-drugs tactic that offers early release to convicts willing to snitch on someone else." She adds, "All the talking would be fine, but the dialogue is preachy, the drama too earnest and the action kind of sluggish, though it's hard not to get a jolt when Johnson jumps behind the wheel."

Though Johnson acquits himself reasonably well in his good-guy role, Sharkey says, "it would be fun to see what might happen if a director pushed him for more." ("Snitch" is directed by Ric Roman Waugh, a former stuntman.)

The San Francisco Chronicle's Mick LaSalle notes that in this role, Johnson "does not take off his shirt, so this has to be considered a step forward for the big guy." He agrees with Sharkey that Johnson shows promise, but "He's still not 100% there as an actor."

More problematic for LaSalle is the improbability of the plot, which is loosely based on a 1999 "Frontline" episode, also called "Snitch." Throughout the film, LaSalle says, "one question keeps entering the mind: Really? This is a true story? Is there really somebody this stupid?"

In the New York Times, Stephen Holden describes "Snitch" as "a grimy, realistic thriller with an agenda" but says Johnson, "with his booming superhero voice and hulking physique … is simply too large for the role of John Matthews, the owner of a construction company somewhere in the heartland."

At some point, the film "[loses] some of its dramatic balance and [morphs] into an uneasy hybrid of issue-oriented drama and action-adventure blowout," although it "doesn't disintegrate into noisy popcorn nonsense." Supporting turns from Susan Sarandon and Barry Pepper help keep things on track, Holden says.

NPR's Scott Tobias says, " 'Snitch' tries to be two movies at once." Rather than trying to reconcile the film's action agenda with its earnest social commentary, "Waugh opts instead for a cake-and-eat-it approach that compromises 'Snitch' from both ends."

Holden continues: "Whatever was relatable and down-to-earth about a father doing everything possible to save his son from injustice is obliterated by a succession of big shoot-'em-up set pieces that no normal dad could expect to survive. And whatever lizard-brain fun might have been had in watching Johnson do battle against a drug cartel is weakened by the occasional hard tug at the social conscience."

Writing for the Boston Globe, Tom Russo is a bit more keen on "Snitch." He writes, "Is the whole situation a reach? No more than, say, a high school chemistry teacher turning meth kingpin. (Although, again, you probably shouldn't scrutinize the 'true story' assertion too closely.) The storytelling is slick … but as thrillers go, this one is pretty lean. By the time stuntman-turned-director Ric Roman Waugh indulges in some climactic big rig mayhem, you’ll give him a pass for good behavior."

If that isn't enough, Russo also points out that "The Rock even cries!" You don't see that every day.

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