Here is what I do not, as a moviegoer, ever want to see: The Rock, getting brutally stomped by a bunch of punk-ass drug dealers. And yet that’s what we get, early in Snitch. The Rock doesn't even get in one good punch against the punks, he just goes down and the next thing we see is him stumbling out of a hospital. Like he's some sort of...human being or something. This stomping is the most obvious sign that we’re getting a look at a different, more human side of The Rock. (Of course, we were warned by the opening card of Snitch that swore the film was “Inspired By True Events.” But then, the Walking Tall remake was technically inspired by true events, too, and that featured The Rock in full movie-star mode, waving a 2x4 around like it was Mjolnir, so the contraints of real life storytelling aren’t always enough to keep The Rock in line.) This is a quieter, less self-assured, more human Rock. Or at least we’re told: He stll looks superhuman compared to all his costars, and though he never takes his shirt off, we can still see his implant-thick pecs straining against the audience's suspension of disbelief.
The Rock: See this baseball cap? I'm wearing it because I'm a normal, boring, helpless, kind of pathetic everyday person...like you!
We learn soon enough in Snitch that The Rock is a small businessman with a forgettable, boring everyman name trying to keep his construction business afloat. He’s good people, you see, as The Rock always is. Trouble rears its head in the form of The Rock’s teenage son, who agrees to receive a ridiculously large shipment of what we are helpfully informed is “MDMA, or Ecstasy” on behalf of one of his friends. He’s a good kid, but he gets arrested almost immediately and, because of some unjust drug laws, he could be facing decades in prison when his friend agrees to rat on him. Through an agreement that stretches the real-life boundaries that we were informed about earlier, The Rock, who is, remember, a perfectly normal, real-life guy, offers to catch a drug dealer and deliver him to the authorities in exchange for leniency for his son.
Snitch drives itself through a series of ruts. There’s a lot of exposition for a while, then a whole bunch of angst, then there’s a solid, tense scene where The Rock has to deliver some drugs as part of a sting operation. Then there’s more talking, some standard movie-of-the-week emoting, and then more action. The direction and cinematography are decent-but-forgettable, although there’s some fine acting in supporting roles: Michael Kenneth Williams is a menacing midlevel drug dealer who comes off more as a form of mean comic relief, and Barry Pepper is a grizzled DEA agent who looks like a burnt-out Tom Petty roadie.
Snitch wants to be a movie about Serious Issues, and on the one hand, it achieves that goal by raising some important questions about the drug war, but it also feels staid, hokey, and too straight-edge for its own good. It feels like an afterschool special that realizes the moral it's telling is way too simplistic to be helpful. But on the other hand, it also wants to achieve a cinematic climax involving The Rock driving a tractor trailer truck at top speed while shooting a gun at the angry Mexican drug dealers racing alongside him. For a brief, shining moment, this normal guy gets to send shiny, expensive black cars hurtling into comically large explosions before he gets dragged back into dreary old normal life. When you’re dealing with someone as unreal as The Rock, it seems, even realism has to shrug its shoulders and give up every once in a while.