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Article updated: 2/21/2013 6:20 AM

Dull direction, killer cliches take down fact-inspired 'Snitch'

A drug cartel kingpin known as "The Mole" (Benjamin Bratt) unloads some lead in the anemic action thriller "Snitch."

A drug cartel kingpin known as "The Mole" (Benjamin Bratt) unloads some lead in the anemic action thriller "Snitch."

 
Businessman John Matthews (Dwayne Johnson), left, makes a deal with a U.S. attorney to get his son out of jail in “Snitch.”

Businessman John Matthews (Dwayne Johnson), left, makes a deal with a U.S. attorney to get his son out of jail in "Snitch."

 
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"Snitch" shows just how far a loving father will go to free his quasi-innocent son from the slammer where he has been sentenced to 10 years.

This thriller -- allegedly "inspired by true events" in a PBS documentary -- has such lazy direction and even lazier dialogue that it seems to last about that long, too.

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"Snitch"

★ ½
Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Susan Sarandon, Benjamin Bratt, Barry Pepper, Jon Bernthal
Directed by: Ric Roman Waugh
Other: A Summit Entertainment release. Rated PG-13 for drug use and violence. 109 minutes

On paper, or at least in a word document, "Snitch" possesses all the right ingredients for an intense family drama that includes evil drug cartels, scruffy undercover cops, political manipulations of justice and fatherly sacrifices all topped with a socially relevant message about the absurdity of mandatory sentencing for first-time drug offenders.

Yet, the generic characters deliver so many clichés that they never seem genuine, just actors spouting lines without a whit of conviction or interpersonal connection.

The drama begins with teenager Jason (Rafi Gavron) receiving a parcel of drugs from a friend who, to save his own hide, lies and tells police Jason is his dealer.

Jason's dad, a trucking firm owner named John Matthews (Dwayne "Formerly The Rock" Johnson), rushes to the jail with his ex-wife Sylvie (Melina Kanakaredes) in disbelief.

The screenplay, by director Ric Roman Waugh and Justin Haythe, then invokes the mother's standard-issue "It's all my fault!" speech, followed by the dad's sympathetic "It's not your fault!" speech.

John realizes he must do something to help his victimized son, who bears increasingly ugly bruises, stitches and scabs each time Dad visits him in the pokey.

He appeals to U.S. attorney Joanne Keeghan (Susan Sarandon, looking too elegant to be uttering pedestrian exchanges like "Am I clear?" with her subordinate responding, "Crystal!")

Keeghan's the only person with the power to commute Jason's sentence. She's willing to do that if John will help her put away ruthless Mexican drug cartel kingpins (are there any other kinds?) so she can be elected to office.

John decides to go undercover, transport drugs and money for ruthless local dealers such as Malik (Michael Kenneth Williams), with the hope that he can move up the ladder into the trust of the king of kingpins, "The Mole" (played with dazed disinterest by Benjamin Bratt).

The moment that John mentions "The Mole" during a meeting with Keeghan and Agent Cooper (a bored Barry Pepper), the U.S. attorney quickly closes her office door. (Seriously? Now she closes the door after already discussing secret matters that threaten the lives of John's family?)

John isn't very good at hooking up with underworld drug connections, as evidenced when a group of them beat him up for looking suspicious. (Did casting directors ever think Dwayne Johnson might not be the ideal choice to play an average, regular Missouri dad and businessman?)

Fortunately, John has an ex-con drug dealer on his payroll, James Cruz (Jon Bernthal, performing the movie's most authentic, credible character with transparent conviction).

John offers the struggling Cruz $20,000 to introduce him to Malik, thereby forcing Cruz to betray his no-crime pledge to his loving wife (Lela Loren) and jeopardizing their lives, along with their tiny son.

John's second wife (Chicago's own Nadine Velazquez, struggling to squeeze out her flavorless lines) can't believe how John has put everyone around him in danger.

"It's not my rules!" John thunders. "It's their rules!"

(Ah, yes, the "rules" cliché, often accompanied by the "game" cliché, tendered here by Malik who tells John, "It seems like you're ready for the game!")

"Snitch" climaxes with a relatively lethargic chase scene (compared to one in "A Good Day to Die Hard") with John driving a semitruck while cars filled with Mole men try to stop him from escaping with $83 million of their cash.

Halfway through the chase, one bright fellow suggests, "Shoot the tires!"

Finally, somebody in "Snitch" does something original in an action chase scene.

I just hope I never see Waugh's film on a double bill with Guy Ritchie's "Snatch."

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