EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

February 21, 2013

The secret's out 'Snitch' is better than expected

The Eagle-Tribune

---- — When did Dwayne Johnson enter Daddy mode?

In “Snitch,” we find the big lug formally known as The Rock playing father figure to an 18-year-old son. He would seem to be prematurely settling into this daddy-gone-vengeful action genre that until now has been primarily controlled by Liam Neeson in the “Taken” films.

Anyway, that’s what I thought, but then “Snitch” surprised me.

When John Matthews (Johnson) finds out his son Jason (Ravi Gavron) was set up by his childhood friend in a drug deal and faces up to 10 years in prison, he agrees to work with the DEA in trying to arrest another big-time drug dealer in exchange for his son’s freedom.

The movie never went where I expected it to go and I found myself more engaged because of this. Seeing a big guy like Johnson play it restrained, undercover, without erupting into random scenes of violence and excess like the aforementioned “Taken” films is refreshing for a genre piece such as this.

It isn’t all flashes and bangs. The movie takes its time building the characters and highlighting their unfortunate situation brought about by an even more unfortunate system for fighting the war on drugs, where set-ups like Jason’s in the films happen in real-life all too often.

It creates stakes, rather than mindless action-set pieces, so when the inevitable thrilling finale arrives (a great car chase with Johnson operating both a semi and a shotgun), the stakes are high. I could feel the pressure.

Of course, much like the “Taken” films or any action film for that matter, viewers are still encouraged to suspend their level of disbelief; a premise involving a construction worker doing dangerous work for the DEA certainly requires this.

“Snitch” is based on a true story. And while certain liberties were obviously taken at points, the substance found between the father and son is something noticeably missing from many action films these days. A little bit of human relation goes a long way, especially when you plan on flipping trucks, firing bullets, and blowing up cars near the end of the film. That way, there’s a hero to root for amid all the chaos.

Johnson is the hero for sure in “Snitch,” a reasonably entertaining insight into the war on drugs simplified and toned down just enough to prove a point while still reaching a mainstream audience. It’s a dumber “Traffic,” a smarter “Taken,” and an interesting movie.

You are encouraged to leave your brain at the door for “Snitch.” Still, halfway through when the movie starts to actually make you think, don’t be surprised if you find yourself wanting it back.