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What you need to know for 07/24/2017

Johnson gets in over his head, but survives being a ‘Snitch’

Johnson gets in over his head, but survives being a ‘Snitch’

“Snitch” isn’t a great film. But after the run of brawling, over-the-top shoot-’em-ups / drive-’em-u
Johnson gets in over his head, but survives being a ‘Snitch’
From left, Barry Pepper, Susan Sarandon and Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson star in “Snitch.”
Photographer: Steve Dietl/Summit Entertainment

This film takes forever to get going, and lollygags along even after that.

As a businessman scrambling to get his son out of a federal prison sentence, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson has to play fear, tough love, pity and panic — and he’s a bit in over his head.

But that’s the point of “Snitch,” a straight-no-chaser thriller “inspired by a true story.” The pacing is off, while too many scenes lack dramatic punch and play like filler. But Johnson is pretty good at being a guy in over his head, sharing scenes with flinty pros like Susan Sarandon, Benjamin Bratt and Barry Pepper.

‘Snitch’

DIRECTED BY: Ric Roman Waugh

STARRING: Dwayne Johnson, Susan Sarandon, Benjamin Bratt, John Bernthal, Rafi Gavron, Michael Kenneth Williams and Barry Pepper

RATED: PG-13

GRADE: C+

RUNNING TIME: 112 minutes

It’s a tale of a civilian who gets mixed up in the feds-vs.-Mexican drug cartels war, whose “mandatory minimum sentencing” has snared John Matthews’ naive 18-year-old son. The prosecutor (Sarandon) is a hard case, readying a run for Congress.

So John makes a deal — he’ll get “an introduction” into that world through his construction supply business. He’ll use his Jefferson City, Mo., trucks for transport, and they’ll nail big players from the cartel.

Co-writer and director Ric Roman Waugh was a stuntman before he turned director. But he wastes a staggering amount of time setting that scenario up, and even more time getting to the point where his no-digital stunt experience pays off. Some of that establishes that John is a fish out of water and shows us his learning curve. Mostly, though, that slow pacing robs the story of tension and suspense.

What gives it juice is the supporting cast. Jon Bernthal (Shane in “The Walking Dead“) is credibly wary as the ex-con John begs to get him in the door of the drug world. And the terrific Michael Kenneth Williams is the first dealer he meets, a guy who pulls a gun on him just to test him.

Waugh can be forgiven for giving these guys more scenes than are absolutely necessary. They’re that good.

Pepper sports a Civil War-worthy goatee in his role as an undercover fed who frets over John’s safety.

Rafi Gavron is properly frightened as the boy who let a friend entrap him with a box full of pills and sets this whole saga in motion, though Waugh loses track of the kid for much of the movie. We need reminding of the stakes, the danger.

But I like the way Johnson, often shot in extreme close-ups, underplays this guy. And I like the way the script lets John’s ineptitude and discomfort in this world create the humor, the way Waugh has some scenes set to music, no sound effects, the way he dispenses with the obligatory “I’m gonna need to head to the gun shop” scene and the way the man films a car and truck chase — rending metal, shattered glass, none of that digital fuss and fakery.

“Snitch” isn’t a great film. But after the run of brawling, over-the-top shoot-’em-ups / drive-’em-ups that have cluttered Johnson’s resume, it’s good to see him try his hand at acting, even if he is just as overmatched as the fellow he’s playing.

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