Johnson rocks drug cartel in 'Snitch'

The second film in as many weeks in which a father is compelled to save his son from dire - and die hard - circumstances, Snitch stars Dwayne Johnson, the man who moves like a tractor-trailer, and who here plays John Matthews, the owner of a fleet of, yes, tractor-trailers. You can tell the difference between the guy and his trucks because the actor formerly known as the Rock can grimace, get misty-eyed, and turn his head into a big, rigorous scowl. The big rigs can only screech and make loud, downshifting noises on steeper grades.

When Matthews' just-out-of-high school son, Jason (Rafi Gavron), answers the door one day and signs for a package, the family is thrown into the worst kind of crisis. The box is chockfull of ecstasy pills, neatly concealing a GPS device - which a squad of DEA officers has been tracking. Jason, who knew what he was signing for (his friend had persuaded him to keep it for a day or so), is arrested. And because of mandatory minimum sentencing laws for drug trafficking, the kid who was going off to college is now going off to prison instead. For 10 years.

This won't do. And so John, divorced from Jason's mom (Melina Kanakaredes) and remarried, with a young daughter, makes a deal with the U.S. attorney (a no-nonsense Susan Sarandon). He'll go undercover and infiltrate a drug ring and turn the culprits over to the feds in exchange for his son's freedom. First step, go on Wikipedia and look up "drug cartel."

Directed by veteran stuntman Ric Roman Waugh, Snitch is shot with a mix of nervous close-ups and weirdly vertiginous angles. There are a couple of big action set-pieces - notably a climactic highway chase, with a posse of gunslinging bad dudes trying to take Matthews and his giant semi off the road. Cars crash and burn and go flying into overpasses.

Another film "inspired by true events," Snitch is the B-movie action version of an advocacy doc: It tries (with some success) to show the inequity in a system in which a first offender on a drug charge can, in many cases, spend more time behind bars than a rapist, or armed robber, or even a murderer. Mandatory minimum sentencing laws, which eliminate almost all judicial discretion, encourage informants - snitches, thus that catchy title. But it is a system whose draconian guidelines have ruined people's lives and also proven ineffective in stopping the widespread distribution of illegal drugs. At least, that's the message here.

And speaking of the distribution of illegal drugs, the perps in Snitch - the ones Matthews goes undercover to expose - are played by Michael Kenneth Williams (Omar from The Wire) and Benjamin Bratt, wearing dark shades and a sinister smirk befitting a Mexican drug kingpin who calls himself El Topo. Barry Pepper, sporting a biker gang goatee, is the DEA agent helping Matthews out. And Jon Bernthal plays an ex-con trying to go straight, until Matthews, his boss, persuades him to hook him up with some dealers.

In trying to salvage his son's life, Matthews may be ruining one of his employees. Snitching, it's complicated.

Contact Steven Rea at 215-854-5629 or Read his blog, "On Movies Online," at



Directed by Ric Roman Waugh. With Melina Kanakaredes, Dwayne Johnson, Benjamin Bratt, JD Pardo, Barry Pepper, Harold Perrineau, Nadine Velazquez, Jon Bernthal, Susan Sarandon, Michael Kenneth Williams. Distributed by Lionsgate/Summit Entertainment.

Running time: 1 hours, 52 minutes.

Parent's guide: PG-13 (for drug content and sequences of violence).