I'm not trying to be a hero! I'M FIGHTING THE DRAGON!!

Snitch

tn_snitchIn SNITCH, Benjamin Bratt (CATWOMAN) plays El Topo, a notorious ex-military badass who leads a Mexican drug cartel. He’s elusive to the authorities, preferring to stay back in a car and watch his underlings from afar, but when the shit goes down he’s the first to pull out a huge gun that looks like it should be mounted to a jeep. He’s very dangerous, especially to the naive Americans who he convinces to drive his drugs across the border. What they don’t understand is they don’t need to be working on a playlist for the drive back.

The obvious question: is this supposed to be a loose remake of EL TOPO, or a sequel, or what? I gotta go with prequel. At the end of EL TOPO El Topo (originally played by Alejandro Jodorowsky) had achieved enlightenment, gone underground and become a Saint. It just doesn’t follow that he would then become a cartel leader. Instead, SNITCH shows how the El Topo we first met riding through the desert with his young son came from a troubled background. It gives him all the more darkness to be redeemed from, retroactively adding more depth to Jodorowsky’s film.

You know what though, I can picture a remake. Think DEATH RACE. Jason Statham, P.W.S. Anderson, modernization loosely based on the original. Maybe he’d throw in some cars, maybe not, but disgraced security expert Jack “The Mole” Topolino travels the desert in a spiral fighting the different masters to get to the spot where he can tunnel into the CIA’s secret maximum security underground prison. Growing his hair long to disguise himself as “The Saint” he infiltrates the Freaks gang so he can locate the other mole, the one man who can prove he didn’t kill his wife or aid Al Qaeda.

mp_snitchThe star of SNITCH is actually Dwayne T.R. Johnson, but don’t expect an action movie. This is of the Rockdrama subgenre, which also includes GRIDIRON GANG. Like that one it’s a big-hearted movie about a tough, hard working man trying to help young people get out of trouble, it’s about redemption and responsibility and going straight and what not. Also it’s a message movie trying to hammer home the serious point that minimum sentencing drug laws are fucked up.

See, The Rock’s son is a normal kid who does something dumb: he doesn’t say no to his friend who wants to send him a package of drugs to hold onto for a little bit. The friend gets busted though and is a fuckin weasel so he sets him up to get busted as soon as he cuts open the package. Minimum sentence 10 years unless he sets up somebody himself (kinda like a vampire or zombie, each snitch creates more snitches) and number one he doesn’t really know any drug dealers and number two he doesn’t want to do to somebody else what his supposed best friend did to him.

Where this becomes a Rockdrama is in dad’s insistence on justice. The law is clear, he’s not gonna get him out by anything done in a court. So he goes to the federal prosecutor (Susan Sarandon, DEAD MAN WALKING, SPEED RACER) and bugs her until she agrees to a deal where if he can bust a drug dealer himself then she’ll lower the kid’s sentence. That would actually make a good premise for a straight up action movie, but they try to play it more real and deal with the suspense of an undercover situation – will the drug dealer believe him, will the cartel believe him, will he put his family in danger, will he get his friend in trouble, will the feds keep their word, etc.

I’m not including an Action Comprehensibility Rating for this because I don’t consider it an action movie. There are a couple truck and gun related action sequences but they’re not the point of the thing and are shot in the standard issue chaotic style of the day. That’s too bad too because director/co-writer Ric Roman Waugh is a veteran stuntman who worked on such real deal action movies as THEY LIVE, ROAD HOUSE, TOTAL RECALL, UNIVERSAL SOLDIER, RAPID FIRE and HARD TARGET.

In addition to Johnson, Sarandon and Bratt, the cast also includes Barry Pepper as a DEA agent with a long billygoat beard and Michael Kenneth Williams as the dealer below the El Topo level. But the MVP supporting player is Jon Bernthal (Shane from The Walking Dead) as The Rock’s ex-con employee who hooks him up with the cartel. It doesn’t really make any bones about how shitty it is for The Rock to push a guy into this situation when he knows he’s trying to straighten his life out and stay out of trouble. The Rock is as flawed a hero as he is a father, but he acknowledges some of these weaknesses and learns some lessons by the end. I like the tension between his new family and his old one. He’s had much more success since the divorce so there’s even a class difference that his son resents him for.

In the title, the snitch could be the dumbass friend that got the kid in trouble in the first place, or it could be The Rock, who becomes a snitch for the greater good. I’m actually not clear on the movie’s stance on snitching and/or whether snitches do in fact get stitches. But it’s very clear that the drug sentencing laws are a travesty, and I appreciate that point.

I can see why The Rock would want to take a role like this. It takes advantage of both his physical presence (useful to the cartel) and his aura of decency. He gets to be the successful man and the working man, he owns the trucking company but you’re not surprised when he can drive the trucks himself, or when he stops to help an employee he doesn’t know do some grunt work. It’s got this strong hook that he will do anything to help his son, and a little dimension in that the things he’s obviously seeking redemption for are small, human things and not your usual dark past shorthand like he killed someone or he failed to save the president or something. Other than the action scenes it’s a well made, watchable movie that he’s good in.

Unfortunately, like too many of his movies, it’s pretty much instantly forgettable. Another practice run for the great movie he seems destined to star in some day.


VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, June 25th, 2013 at 12:55 pm and is filed under Crime, Drama, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

11 Responses to “Snitch”

  1. If I had known one of the leads in this was El Topo, I would have seen SNITCH opening weekend for sure.

  2. This is a perfectly serviceable ABC Movie of the Week ripped-from-the-headlines type movie. It holds your interest for the whole running time and is often a little better than you’d think it would be, but once it’s over there’s no reason to ever see it again. There are no layers to unravel, nuances to uncover, or dynamic setpieces to revisit. It says what it has to say and that’s the end of it, like a kid giving a book report.

    It is odd that it bothered to cast a unique physical specimen like The Rock in a movie that doesn’t require it at all. This role could have been played by pretty much any male actor of appropriate age. It shows that Mr. Johnson has actual acting chops by not letting his bulk do most of the work for him, but it’s also kind of a waste. We have infinite supplies of normal human-sized actors, but our Samoan man-mountain resources are extremely limited.

    It’s also kind of weird that no one mentions what a gigantic motherfucker he is. Vern says his size comes in handy for the cartel but I don’t remember that. I just remember everyone treating him like he’s this soft little punk when he looks like he could tear a dude in half like a phonebook. You’d think at least MKW would have had something to say when this humongous soccer dad unexpectedly fills his entire kitchen doorway.

  3. I have to agree with Mr. Majestyk. Not bad, but…that’s it. This is gonna be one of those that you forget you actually saw or you just remember seeing it and nothing more.

    Johnson’s bland RAW DEAL* clunker for an otherwise great year for him. I didn’t like GI JOE 2, but it was a hit and gave him another franchise. FAST & FURIOUS 6 was the biggest hit of that franchise (best entry too). And even if I can’t really embrace PAIN & GAIN like Majestyk did, I wouldn’t be shocked if it becomes a future cult classic. (I’ll admit even that as Bayphobic as I am, it has some interesting entertainment value.)

    *=Or will that be EMPIRE STATE that I read somewhere is going straight to DVD?

  4. Yeah, but I’ve probably seen RAW DEAL at least six times and I’ll definitely watch it a few more before I’m through. It’s got some good action, some real mean villains, and the line “You should not drink and bake.” SNITCH ain’t got any of that shit.

  5. Mr. M – Yeah you’re right. (At least about that line.)

    SNITCH is gonna be one of those movies that Wal-Mart puts in those 4 films for $5 or $10 DVDs because who’ll want to buy this on its own?

  6. RRA I just got “Punch-drunk Love” for $4.99 at the grocery check out.

    I was so proud of myself.

  7. REALLY wanna watch that El Topo remake now.

  8. I think I enjoyed this one a little more than everyone else. It’s not a great movie, but I think it’s a unique movie in today’s film climate. It’s a socially conscious melodrama with some action sprinkled in, which you don’t really see much anymore. And it let The Rock showcase his dramatic skills. (I thought he did a fine job). It was also interesting that they heavily implied that the son might get raped in prison. (It’s not really clear what happens to him after he’s attacked). I wasn’t expecting that in a PG-13 film. Overall, the movie’s heart is in the right place and it never dragged.

  9. I agree with you guys that this one was solid but pretty forgettable. I also agree that while the Rock was good in the film he seemed miscast and it should have been someone with a more every man type physical presence in the role instead of a hulking physical specimen like the Rock.

  10. Worst movie of the year. I… I can’t even…

    Ridiculously heavy handed, laughably dramatic and what a boring pod through entrapping a drug cartel. Sorry, I just can’t forgive anything about this, except maybe Jon Bernthal, you’re right about him.

  11. BATTY: It’s a PG-13 movie, but according to Cinemax it also has SSC (or strong sexual content). In all my years of watching premium channels I’ve never seen anything with SSC that was less than an R before.

    I thought it was serviceable but ultimately unforgettable. Vern might agree with this, but there just has to be the right creative voice for Dwayne to put him in something that will get him to the next level. He carried this and to a lesser degree PAIN & GAIN to movies that probably could have been a lot worse with someone else in his place.

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