Snitch


This is NOT an expression you want to see on Dwayne Johnson's face when he's walking towards you.

This is NOT an expression you want to see on Dwayne Johnson’s face when he’s walking towards you.

(2013) Action (Summit) Dwayne Johnson, Barry Pepper, Susan Sarandon, Benjamin Bratt, Jon Bernthal, Michael Kenneth Williams, Melina Kanakaredes, Nadine Velazquez, Harold Perrineau, Lela Loren, Rafi Gavron, JD Pardo, David Harbour, Kyara Campos, Ashlynn Ross, Kym Jackson. Directed by Ric Roman Waugh

In the United States, the War on Drugs has led to harsh mandatory sentencing laws in which first time offenders with no prior record who are caught with a sufficient amount of illegal narcotics in their possession will be charged with possession with intent to distribute. In these cases, the accused can be sentenced if found guilty to minimum jail terms longer than given to those convicted of manslaughter or rape.

Jason Collins (Gavron) is Skyping with a friend who wants to send him some ecstasy to hold onto. Jason doesn’t want to do it but his friend sends them anyway. Jason foolishly accepts the shipment and immediately the DEA break down the doors and arrest his ass. His mom Sylvia (Kanakaredes) calls her ex-husband John Matthews (Johnson) and the two are pretty much left to cool their heels before anyone will even talk to them much less allow them to see their son.

They discover that Jason was set up by his friend who used the arrest of Jason as a means of getting his own sentence reduced. If Jason can supply another drug dealer for arrest, his own sentence will be reduced as well but Jason doesn’t know any other drug dealers besides the jerk who set him up and refuses to set up one of his friends in the same manner he was, even though he’s facing ten years minimum and 30 years maximum.

Frustrated and desperate, John goes to see US Attorney Joanne Keeghan (Sarandon) who is also running for Senate on an anti-crime platform. There’s really nothing she can do; the laws tie her hands, she explains. John then offers himself as a snitch; if he can find a drug dealer for his son, can his help be used to reduce Jason’s sentence?

John enlists the help of one of the employees at his trucking/construction firm, Daniel James (Bernthal) who is an ex-con with two narcotics distribution convictions on his record without telling him that the DEA is involved. Daniel introduces John to Malik (Williams) who realizes that John’s trucking company offers him a transportation means that he wouldn’t ordinarily have access to and is much safer than what he’s used to. But being a drug dealer, he is naturally suspicious so he set John up for a milk run, insisting that Daniel accompany him.

John and Daniel do their end, monitored by Agent Collins (Pepper). However when Collins overhears Malik tell them when he gets the delivery of his drugs that he wants to set up a meet with Mexican cartel head El Topo (Bratt), things are moved to another level. Daniel, who discovers what John is up to, realize that both of their families are at risk. Mexican cartels are known for their vicious approach to informants. Now John is in way over his head and pretty much no matter what happens he’s going to lose.

This is a movie that can’t make up its mind whether to be a rip-roaring action film or a serious drama examining the consequences of mandatory sentence laws. In all honesty Waugh could have taken this in either direction and made a successful film. Unfortunately he kind of dithers and tries to have it both ways and in the end the movie winds up suffering a little bit.

It’s not due to the cast however. Johnson is one of the most charismatic actors out there and continues to improve. This is one of his most dramatic roles yet and he handles it without mugging (which he sometimes does, a throwback to his wrestling days) and with a surprising amount of restraint. I don’t know that he’s ever going to win any Oscars (although I get the sense that he’s capable of accomplishing anything he sets his mind to) but he has graduated onto the Hollywood A-list and I suspect will remain on it for a long time to come.

Bernthal, an alumnus of The Walking Dead shows a whole lot of potential for big screen success. As the ex-con trying to get his life turned around he’s playing a role nearly the polar opposite of Shane, a good cop who was turning ruthless and amoral. He has tons of charisma and holds his own with Johnson which is a pretty nifty feat.

Pepper, looking like he was attending a try-out for The Mandarin in Iron Man 3 is a DEA agent with a conscience while Sarandon is a tough as nails prosecutor who doesn’t care who gets trampled in her ambitions. In fact, most of the cast here ranges from solid to spectacular. As action movies go, this is phenomenally well-acted.

The atmosphere is gritty as well; we get a sense of all the worlds from that of the successful business owner to that of the paranoid drug dealer. I was impressed by a few of the action sequences (like a gun battle at a scrap metal yard) although they were fairly sparse; the car chase that is the film’s denouement isn’t particularly noteworthy but it at least maintains our interest.

I liked this movie and thought it had a lot of potential. There were a few pathways that they didn’t choose to go down that might have warranted at least a little exploration (did Matthews’ wife suspect he was lying to her for example) and there were a few credibility stretches here and there but all in all this is a better movie than we had a right to expect. In a year when the quality of most of the major releases has been meager, that’s a blessing in and of itself.

REASONS TO GO: Johnson is a terrific performer and gets excellent support.

REASONS TO STAY: Tries to walk the tightrope between action film and true crime drama and doesn’t always succeed.

FAMILY VALUES:  There is plenty of violence and some drug content.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The writers were inspired by a Frontline documentary on mandatory sentencing laws but didn’t use any specific incidents as the basis for their film.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 3/21/13: Rotten Tomatoes: 56% positive reviews. Metacritic: 52/100; the reviews were pretty mediocre trending towards the negative.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Fast Five

FINAL RATING: 6.5/10

NEXT: Radio

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New Releases for the Week of February 22, 2013


Dark Skies

DARK SKIES

(Dimension) Keri Russell, Josh Hamilton, Dakota Goyo, Kadan Rockett, J.K. Simmons, L.J. Benet, Rich Hutchman, Myndi Crist, Annie Thurman, Ron Ostrow. Directed by Scott Stewart

When a suburban family begins to experience terrifying unexplained occurrences, they look for answers and discover that they’ve been targeted by a mysterious and deadly force. When they can get no help from skeptical authorities, they take matters into their own hands to protect themselves against a malevolent foe.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Sci-Fi Horror

Rating: PG-13 (for violence, terror throughout, sexual material, drug content and language – all involving teens)

Bless Me, Ultima

(Arenas Entertainment) Luke Ganalon, Miriam Colon, Benito Martinez, Dolores Heredia. When a mystical healer comes to stay at a New Mexico boy’s home during the Second World War, she changes his life in many ways – opening him up to his own spiritual qualities and teaching him to see the world in a different way. Based on the beloved but controversial novel by Rudolfo Anaya.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Drama

Rating: PG-13 (for sexual references and some violence)

Kai Po Che!

(UTV) Sushant Singh Rajput, Raj Kumar Yadav, Amit Sadh, Amrita Puri. A trio of childhood friends decide to unite to start their own business – a cricket training academy. In India where cricket is like hockey for Canadians, it seems like a slam dunk of an idea – but the hurdles facing them are large and not so easily surmounted.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Bollywood

Rating: NR

Snitch

(Summit) Dwayne Johnson, Susan Sarandon, Benjamin Bratt, Barry Pepper. When a young man is busted for a drug crime he didn’t commit, his father is willing to do anything to keep him out of prison. What “anything” entails is going undercover in one of the most vicious drug cartels operating in the United States. Unbelievably, this is based on actual events.

See the trailer and a promo here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Action Thriller

Rating: PG-13 (for drug content and sequences of violence)  

West of Memphis

(Sony Classics) Damien Echols, Lorri Davis, Jason Baldwin, Pam Hicks. Documentary filmmaker Amy Berg looks into the notorious case of the West Memphis Three, three teenage boys unjustly convicted for the murders of three eight-year-old boys in 1993. Given the death penalty, it took an extraordinary effort which was often thwarted by the state of Arkansas itself to bring to light the truth which eventually would set these young teens – now grown to young men – free.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Documentary

Rating: R (for disturbing violent content and some language)

Four-Warned: February 2013


A Good Day to Die Hard

Every month I’m going to look at every movie on the release schedule and try to assign them a numerical value corresponding to how anxious I am to see it. The lower the number, the more I want to see it. A one means I would walk through hell and high water to see it; a four means there’s no interest whatsoever. The numbers are not arrived at scientifically but they aren’t arbitrary either.

The numbers aren’t a reflection of the artistic merit of any of these films, but merely a reflection of my willingness to go to a movie theater and see it. The top four scores will be gathered as a means of reflecting the movies I’m anticipating the most; you may use that as a guide or not.

Each entry is broken down as follows:

NAME OF FILM (Studio) Genre A brief description of the plot. Release plans: Wide = Everywhere, Limited = In selected markets. RATING A brief comment

Keep in mind that release dates are extremely subject to change, even at this late date.

FOUR TO SEE
1. A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD (1.3)
2. BULLET TO THE HEAD (1.6)
3. WARM BODIES (1.7)
 TIE. SNITCH (1.7)

FOUR TO SEEK OUT (FILMS NOT IN WIDE RELEASE)
1. NO (1.0)
2. LORE (1.4)
 TIE. THE SORCRER AND THE WHITE SNAKE (1.4)
4. BLESS ME, ULTIMA (1.6)

RATING SYSTEM: 1) Must-see, 2) Should-see, 3) Perhaps-see, 4) Don’t-see

FEBRUARY 1, 2013

BULLET TO THE HEAD (Warner Brothers) Genre: Action. An assassin and a cop combine forces to take down the killers who murdered their partners. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 1.6 Although Stallone and director Walter Hill would have made a good fit 30 years ago, taking on a graphic novel might be a bit much for them now – but I still want to see it.
DAVID (Reliance) Genre: Drama. Three different men from three different parts of the world in three different years – but all three named David – are about to take steps that will radically change their lives. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.1 The trailer doesn’t shed any light on how the three stories are interconnected by anything other than the name.
THE GATEKEEPERS (Sony Classics) Genre: Documentary. The Shin Bet, Israel’s secret service agency, has been at the center of Israeli policy since the Seven Days War; for better or for worse, this film takes an accounting of their actions. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.2 This sounds like a fascinating subject but the trailer makes it look like a bunch of old men talking heads.
GIRLS AGAINST BOYS (Anchor Bay) Genre: Thriller. A pair of girls, sick of being victimized by men, go on a killing spree that begins to expand past their range of tormenters. Release Strategy: Limited RATING: 2.9 Gotta love a distaff revenge flick.
THE HAUNTING IN CONNECTICUT 2: GHOSTS OF GEORGIA (Lionsgate) Genre: Supernatural Horror. A family moves into a remote Georgia home to discover that the ghosts of escaped slaves and angry Rebels are still lurking there. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.9 Looks to be even better than it’s barely related predecessor.
KOCH (Zeitgeist) Genre: Documentary. Former New York City mayor Ed Koch is profiled. Release Strategy: New York City (opening in Los Angeles March 1). RATING: 2.3 Looks like it could be a fairly interesting portrait of a larger-than-life personality.
WARM BODIES (Summit) Genre: Horror Spoof. After the zombie apocalypse decimates the planet, a young woman discovers a young man turned zombie who is starting to feel emotions again – including love for her. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 1.7 A very different kind of zombie movie – looking forward to seeing it.

FEBRUARY 6, 2013

CAESAR MUST DIE (Adopt) Genre: Mockumentary. In a maximum-security Italian prison, a production of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar has far-reaching consequences. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 2.7 This has kinda been done to death but we’ll see how this one works out.

FEBRUARY 8, 2013

A GLIMPSE INSIDE THE MIND OF CHARLES SWAN III (A24) Genre: Dramedy. After being dumped by his girlfriend suddenly, a successful graphic designer finds his life spinning into chaos. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.5 Despite having the Charlie Sheen factor, this one looks intriguing with Roman Coppola at the helm.
IDENTITY THIEF (Universal) Genre: Comedy. A nebbish travels to Florida to confront the woman who stole his identity and get his life back. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.6 If the only laughs are on the trailer, this could be bad news – or lose your bladder control-funny if not.
LORE (Music Box) Genre: War Thriller. Five children, whose parents were imprisoned at the end of World War II as SS officers, make a perilous journey across a ruined Germany to reach their grandmother in the north. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.4 Looks beautifully filmed and wonderfully tense.
THE PLAYROOM (Freestyle) Genre: Drama. An older sister tries to distract her younger siblings with stories of fantasy while her alcoholic parents party downstairs. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 1.8 Looks really intense; John Hawkes, one of my favorite actors right now, makes it a must-see but I understand newcomer Olivia Harris might be even better here.
PORFIRIO (Magic Lantern) Genre: True Life Drama. A paralyzed man in a diaper plots to highjack a plane to gain revenge over the government – and yes, it’s based on a true story (I couldn’t possibly make that up). Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 2.8 Looks so oddball that it might not resonate…but we’ll have to wait and see.
SIDE EFFECTS (Open Road) Genre: Thriller. A drug prescribed for anxiety has some unexpected side effects, leading to repercussions for both doctor and patient. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 1.9 Director Steven Soderbergh is usually a slam dunk for me.
THE SORCERER AND THE WHITE SNAKE (Magnet) Genre: Martial Arts. A sorcerer in ancient China tries to prevent a beloved herbalist from losing his soul to an evil white snake disguised as a beautiful woman. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.4 Amazing visuals and Jet Li – what more could anybody ask for?
SPIDERS 3D (Millennium) Genre: Horror. Giant spiders created by pieces of a crashed Soviet space station threaten to overrun New York City. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.9 They don’t make ’em like this anymore – possibly with good reason.
TOP GUN 3D (Paramount) Genre: Action. Maverick takes back to the skies with his wingman Goose, this time in murky 3D Release Strategy: Wide (3D). RATING: 3.9 I’ve already lost that loving feeling for 3D re-releases.

FEBRUARY 13, 2013

A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD (20th Century Fox) Genre: Action. Supercop John McClane teams up with his son to take on a rogue Russian leader bent on world domination.. Release Strategy: Wide (Standard, IMAX). RATING: 1.3 Bruce Willis is getting a bit long in the tooth for these; maybe this will be the passing of the torch.

FEBRUARY 14, 2013

BEAUTIFUL CREATURES (Warner Brothers) Genre: Supernatural Fantasy. A young girl who is about to become a witch of unthinkable power becomes the center of a family feud. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.3 This could either go the Twilight route or become interesting eye candy; I’m sure the studio would like a combination of the two.
ESCAPE FROM PLANET EARTH (Weinstein) Genre: Animated Feature. A heroic astronaut lands on a strange planet, gets captured and must be rescued by his brainier and less brawny brother – three guesses which planet he landed on. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 3.6 The animation looks cheesy and the story ripped off from other mediocre animated features.
MURDER 3 (FIP) Genre: Bollywood. A renowned photographer gets involved with a mysterious woman who may have the answers to the disappearance of his girlfriend. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.7 A Bollywood take on an erotic thriller might actually be better than most of the ones that have come out of the US lately.
SAFE HAVEN (Relativity) Genre: Romance. A woman running from her past finds a small town to hide in and a widower’s arms to hold her but the past has a way of finding you. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 3.1 Nicholas Sparks churns out yet another film to add to his growing list of credits.

FEBRUARY 15, 2013

THE BITTER BUDDHA (Self-Released) Genre: Documentary. Follows Eddie Pepitone, a comic deified by his peers but largely unknown to the general public. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.2 I haven’t seen Eddie Pepitone live but now I want to.
LIKE SOMEONE IN LOVE (IFC) Genre: Drama. The story of the relationship between a young woman and an old man in Tokyo. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.5 The trailer is beautifully photographed and sensual.
NO (Sony Classics) Genre: True Life Drama. A referendum on Pinochet’s government in Chile in 1988 is expected to be a whitewash but the advertising exec tasked to spearhead the opposition campaign has other ideas. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.0 Surreal and funny and touching and with an underlying message – can’t wait to see this.
SAVING LINCOLN (Self-Released) Genre: Historical Drama. Lincoln’s bodyguard, famously absent the night of his assassination, is presented here using groundbreaking special effects. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.5 Purports to bring actual Civil War-era photographs to life but looks unconvincing in places; still an intriguing subject nonetheless.
WOULD YOU RATHER? (IFC Midnight) Genre: Thriller. A millionaire throws a dinner party in which desperate guests are forced to play a game of increasingly dangerous and deadly “Would You Rather.”. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.4 Cult favorite Jeffrey Combs is one of the stars so that’s a reason to see it – the trailer is pretty nifty too.

FEBRUARY 22, 2013

11 FLOWERS (First Run) Genre: Drama. During China’s Cultural Revolution, an 11-year-old boy is selected to lead gymnastics for his school, a great honor but he needs a new shirt. This shirt will entwine his fate with that of a fugitive in unexpected ways. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 2.6 The latest from one of China’s most acclaimed young directors.
BLESS ME, ULTIMA (Arenas) Genre: Drama. A young boy in New Mexico during the Second World War comes to terms with his spirituality and Chicano heritage when a curendera (spiritual healer) comes to live with his family. Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.6 Looks awfully intriguing; based on a controversial novel so that’s always good.
DARK SKIES (Dimension) Genre: Sci-Fi Horror. When a family moves into a new home, they are beset by mysterious forces they can’t understand but they soon realize that they must find a way to protect themselves from. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.0 From the producers of the Paranormal Entity series.
INESCAPABLE (IFC) Genre: Thriller. A Syrian expatriate must return home for the first time in 20 years to find his daughter amid the events of the Arab Spring. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 2.1 Looks pretty good with Deep Space Nine’s Alexander Siddig in a long overdue lead role.
RED FLAG (Tribeca) Genre: Romantic Comedy. An independent filmmaker taking his movie on tour enters into a surreal world of sex, fear, drugs and birds. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 3.1 I’ll go with Indie Clichés for $1000 Alex.
RUBBERNECK (Tribeca) Genre: Thriller. A researcher whose tryst with a fellow researcher has developed into an obsession loses it when she develops feelings for another man. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 2.4 Looks genuinely creepy.
SNITCH (Summit) Genre: Thriller. A father makes a deal with the FBI to go undercover in a drug cartel’s organization to save his son from going to jail for a crime he didn’t commit. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 1.7 Based on a true story and starring The Rock – I’m there.
STAND-OFF (Ketchup Entertainment) Genre: Comedy. To pay off a gambling debt to a mobster, a man robs a fish store he’s unaware belongs to the same mobster; on the run from the cops and the mob, he is cornered in a curio store with a group of oddballs trying to find a way out of this mess. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.3 A really good cast includes Brendan Fraser and Colm Meaney.

SCHEDULED TO BE REVIEWED HERE AS NEW RELEASES
Bullet to the Head, Warm Bodies, Identity Thief, Side Effects, A Good Day to Die Hard, Safe Haven, Dark Skies, Snitch

The Bounty Hunter


The Bounty Hunter

Jennifer Aniston and Gerard Butler are crusing the byways of New Jersey in a big blue whale.

(Columbia) Jennifer Aniston, Gerard Butler, Jason Sudeikis, Dorian Missick, Joel Marsh Garland, Christine Baranski, Jeff Garlin, Cathy Moriarty, Richie Coster, Carol Kane, Tracy Thorne, Adam Rose, Siobhan Fallon Hogan. Directed by Andy Tennant

Sometimes life drops a gift into our laps. It could be an inheritance from a previously unknown relative, or a long-forgotten stock gift hitting paydirt. It can even be something far more simpler but much more satisfying.

Nicole Hurly (Aniston) is a reporter whose life is her job. She is investigating the apparent suicide of a police property clerk under suspicious circumstances. When a snitch calls her to set up a meeting with important evidence on the line, she blows off a bail hearing for a traffic crime to go to the meet.

Milo Boyd (Butler) used to be a police detective but he’s made a few career missteps so now he works for his friend Sid (Garlin) as a bounty hunter for bail skip-outs. When he receives the ticket for his ex-wife – you guessed it, Nicole Hurly – over the fourth of July weekend, he is more than jazzed. He is simply ecstatic.

While searching his ex-wife’s apartment, he runs into her love-struck co-worker Stewart (Sudeikis) who believes that he is having a torrid relationship with Nicole (which was in reality a single night of drunken making out). With his intimate knowledge of the client he heads over to Atlantic City where Nicole has also blown off lunch with her cabaret entertainer mom (Baranski) to go to the track and think. He collars her at the track and its clear that she despises him and vice versa.

Milo is also in debt to some bookies for a good deal of dough and Mama Irene (Moriarty) wants it collected. A couple of thugs are on the look-out for Milo, and there are some crooked cops who are after Nicole. Now half the state of New Jersey is looking for both of them and they can’t stand each other – but they’ll have to rely on each other to make it back to New York.

In years gone by this would have been a screwball comedy with Rita Hayworth or Cary Grant in the lead roles, with lots of snappy one-liners and clever dialogue. Today, it’s a formula romantic comedy that shows little imagination in anything other than the casting of the leads with attractive, bankable stars.

Director Andy Tennant has made movies like Hitch and Sweet Home Alabama, both light entertainments that are way better than this is. This is bloodless and by the numbers. Aniston and Butler are both solid actors who have made some good movies but this isn’t one of them. Butler, who was solid in last year’s The Ugly Truth, is in a similar man-slob role but unlike that movie doesn’t have a whole lot of redeeming qualities. The sweetness that was at the core of his character in that movie is completely missing here.

There’s some talent in the supporting roles, from Baranski as Nicole’s oversexed mom to the great Carol Kane as a bed and breakfast owner. For the most part though, it’s wasted with pointless slapstick bits and one-liners that are punchless and none too funny. It’s not a complete waste of time, but it isn’t anything to write home about either.

In fact, this is a completely formulaic movie that holds no surprises whatsoever. You know where the romance is going, and you know who the bad guys are the minute they show up onscreen. It’s a no-brainer for even the non-discerning audience.  

REASONS TO GO: Aniston and Butler are attractive leads.

REASONS TO STAY: A passionless, formulaic script with no surprises whatsoever.

FAMILY VALUES: Some sexual situations and a little bit of violence and foul language but for the most part perfectly harmless.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The production filmed at Monmouth Racetrack in New Jersey; notices were posted throughout the track that those who didn’t want to be filmed should leave the premises.

HOME OR THEATER: No problem waiting for this to hit the home video market.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

TOMORROW: Repo Men