If only Nancy Reagan's "Just Say No" anti-drug message had still been in vogue when Jason Collins was a kid.
If it had been, perhaps Jason—now a college-bound teen— would've told his best bud no when the guy asked if it'd be OK to ship a huge box of Ecstasy to Jason's house. And when the delivery guy rang the doorbell and asked if he had the right address to drop off said box, Jason could've said no then, too.
But it wasn't. And he didn't.
The result? Before Jason even has a chance to sample the delivery himself, folks from the Drug Enforcement Agency bash through the door, chase him through the streets and toss him in the clink.
Now, instead of college the teen's staring at a 10-year prison term. A little harsh for a first-time offender? Perhaps. But the mandatory drug laws on the books leave little latitude. Sure, Jason could get his sentence reduced if he snitched on a drug dealer. Or he could even set up one of his not-so-innocent friends—just like his "best bud" did to him. But he doesn't know any drug dealers, and he's not about to callously ruin someone else's life. And that frustrates his worried pops, John Matthews, to no end. Oh, now the kid says no? He probably sighs.
John sees just one remaining possibility to lessen or eliminate his son's woefully long sentence: "What if I helped you make arrests?" he asks ambitious U.S. Attorney Joanne Keeghan.
Joanne, with one eye focused on imprisoning thugs and the other honed on her political ambitions, tells John that yes—if he brings in someone worth arresting, she'll reduce Jason's sentence.
Of course, tracking down and ensnaring high-level players in the drug trade isn't exactly safe. John understand this. But is he truly aware of the risks he's bringing not just on himself, but his whole family and everybody he corrals to help him?
Most parents say they'd do anything to help their kids. John puts feet to that promise.
The well-respected businessman dives into the shady world of corner gangs and drug cartels to save his child from prison. It's not that he believes his son is innocent, exactly. By allowing the delivery, Jason was both breaking the law and being pretty stupid. But John doesn't believe this one mistake should ruin his boy's entire life.
John's also impressed with Jason's refusal to set someone up to save his own skin. And Jason makes this principled stand in the midst of being regularly beaten by other inmates. "It looks like you're the one teaching me about what real character and integrity is about," John tells him.
Indeed, while Jason doesn't want to get anyone else in needless trouble, John's not so restrained. In his quest to save his son, John ropes in/pays off other folks to get him "in" to the drug underworld, including a former narcotics trafficker named Daniel. Now Daniel's a guy who's really trying to walk the straight and narrow for once in his life. But he succumbs to John's offer of money and helps him make underworld connections—without any knowledge of John's true purposes. Within the context of this story, though, it's through John's shortsighted use of the man that we see all Daniel himself is doing to rectify his past mistakes and become the upstanding husband and father his family deserves.
Daniel steers his son away from penny ante thugs ("Those punks out there, you're better than that," he says) and tells those self-same thugs to never, ever bother his son. While it's unfortunate that he heeds John's call, his reasons for doing so are laudable: John's money could help Daniel move his family from his drug-riddled neighborhood.
Back in Jason's world, it's implied that some of the teen's problems stem from his parents' divorce—an acknowledgement that many kids suffer greatly when Mom and Dad split up.
A drug dealer appears to play with a rosary in several scenes. Joanne glad-hands would-be voters as they leave a church.
Daniel's seen in a bathroom shirtless, flexing muscles and showing off tattoos. His wife comes in and the two begin kissing sensually.
When Joanne's told by a staffer that she's not very popular with liberal voters, Joanne quips, "Maybe I should go to a gay wedding."
The drug trade is not known for its passivity, and audiences quickly see what risks John is taking to rescue his son. He cruises some rough streets looking to "buy" some cocaine. And when he finds a dealer on a street corner, he's quickly yanked out of his car and beaten severely. (Blood flows from his nose and mouth.) Later, he and Daniel find themselves in the middle of a massive shoot-out in a junkyard. Bullets fly from a bevy of fearsome guns, and John and Daniel barely escape—running their big-rig semi through gates and into (over) cars to get out. (Someone's in one of those cars. He's not killed, but we do see blood dripping from his face.) We see casualties from the gunfight piled in a communal grave while dirt is being pushed over the top of them.
Someone performs a one-man assault on a drug house—an attack that leaves three people dead of gunshot wounds. The house is dark, but we still see shirts stained and soaked with blood. Another soul is choked into submission, left either unconscious or dead.
There's a huge gunfight/car chase toward the end of the movie. People get shot (blood sprays) and cars careen off the highway to either flip like crazy, get crashed into by dump trucks or explode when they hit guardrails. The presumed fatality count is high. A semi crashes spectacularly.
Jason, every time he's visited in prison by his father, sports fresh bruises, cuts and stitches. At one point, officials turn Mom and Dad away because their boy's just been assaulted—an attack that requires three-dozen stitches.
Daniel roughs up a couple of men and threatens the life of one. His wife gets a bit physical with him when she believes Daniel's getting back into the drug trade. John's wife and children are threatened.
Crude or Profane Language
A dozen s-words. A peppering of "a‑‑," "b‑‑ch," "h‑‑‑," "p‑‑‑y" and the n-word. God's name is abused 10 or more times, half with "d‑‑n." Jesus' name is abused once.
Drug and Alcohol Content
Snitch is predicated on the illegal drug trade, and naturally we see and hear quite a lot about it. John and Daniel hide cocaine in bags of cement, and John is forced to snort some of the stuff. Jason opens that original delivery package and, as expected, finds thousands of Ecstasy pills in a bag. He tells his drug-dealing friend that he and his girlfriend have wanted to try the stuff. Sylvie says she once smelled marijuana on Jason. And when pressed to tell where he got it, the teen admits that he took some from his girlfriend's father, who grows the stuff for "medicinal" purposes.
Sylvie smokes cigarettes. "Didn't you quit?" John asks. Others also smoke tobacco and/or, possibly, other substances. John drinks hard liquor.
Other Negative Elements
At first, John keeps his activities under wraps from everyone but the authorities. When his second wife presses him, John tells her everything. But Daniel he keeps in the dark longer—fessing up only when the man's life is in danger.
John tells Daniel he's going to "take a leak." Speaking of which, a security guard leaks some critical information to the drug cartel.
Dwayne Johnson has transitioned from bulky professional wrestler to likable actor, becoming—perhaps surprisingly—a pretty bankable family-movie star. He's donned wings for Tooth Fairy, battled dinosaurs in Journey 2: The Mysterious Island and even raced to Witch Mountain in … Race to Witch Mountain. Most of his PG-13 movies—Get Smart, Fast Five and G.I. Joe: Retaliation, to name just a few—have serious teen appeal.
So it makes me wonder whether Snitch was edited just enough to convince fans that it's still in line with all that.
But while Johnson is a dad desperately trying to help his boy—and that is a family kind of message—Snitch doesn't feel like one of Johnson's typical CGI-laden family-fantasy flicks. He doesn't wrestle monsters or manfully jump across canyons, ankle biters dutifully in tow. He's not even given a chance to be deadpan funny. No, this is a very serious, very drug-based thriller that's not very fun. It's meant, on some level, to preach a little: These mandatory drug laws are too tough, we're told. They're meant for high-level traffickers, but they're ensnaring poor, dumb kids like Jason. You're going to have to come to your own conclusions about whether that's a good or bad message in this case. My contribution here is to let you know that preachy movies are not always good movies—no matter how many car chases and shoot-outs the makers try to use to augment the cinematic sermon.
And that all the profanity and gritty violence and drug content may shock unwary parents—not to mention the kids they've brought along to see what their favorite Tooth Fairy's been up to lately.