Starring Dwayne Johnson, Susan Sarandon. Written by Justin Haythe, Ric Roman Waugh. Directed by Ric Roman Waugh. PG. 112 min. Opens Feb. 22.
Given how much our viewing habits and expectations have been changed by the post-Sopranos bounty of high-quality American TV drama, it’s inevitable that some movies can seem more like pilots for prospective Emmy winners than stand-alone films. While Snitch may be big enough to accommodate the ever-beefy presence of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, it also has a curiously small-screen feel, a quality that’s emphasized by the prominence of several actors who are most familiar for their TV work, including The Wire’s Michael Kenneth Williams, The Walking Dead’s Jon Bernthal, and Harold Perrineau of Oz and Lost.
What’s more, Snitch’s inspired-by-true-events storyline about an upstanding St. Louis family man who makes a violent foray into the drug trade has distinct echoes of the reigning champ of small-screen sagas, Breaking Bad. Nevertheless, it’s hard to say exactly where to place Ric Roman Waugh’s film on the proverbial TV dial due to its sometimes clumsy shifts between Lifetime-style earnestness and a tougher sensibility better suited to the bad boys of FX.
Indeed, the movie’s early stretch sets it up as a preachy social-issue melodrama, with our hero, John Matthews (Johnson), coping with the possibility of a lengthy mandatory prison sentence for his otherwise straight-arrow teenage son over a drug charge. But when John strikes a deal with Susan Sarandon’s ambitious D.A. to reduce his son’s term by helping ensnare some bona-fide criminals, Snitch puts aside its own political agenda and becomes a surprisingly terse and effective crime thriller. Had Snitch taken the form of a TV serial, it’d be the kind of show that really hits its stride somewhere in the middle of season one. As it stands now, it’s just another well-intentioned, sporadically compelling movie that takes too long to figure out what it wants to be.