Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson tries his hand at more substantive acting in Snitch, while X-Men director Bryan Singer takes us up the beanstalk in Jack the Giant Slayer. SNITCH REVIEW (GRADE: B+)
Despite the advertising which emphasizes Dwayne Johnson's giant frame and an abundance of automotive carnage, Snitch is not a mindless action film. It's more of a character-driven dramatic thriller with some well-earned action, and it's all the better for it. The actor formerly known as The Rock has made loads of lousy films and a handful of good ones (including Fast Five and my personal favorite The Rundown). Here he gets a chance to really flex his acting muscles.
In this film, loosely based on a true story, he plays a father whose teenage son is imprisoned for a first-time drug offense; the overly-harsh sentence is designed to help authorities cut deals with minor offenders to bring down drug dealers. There's just one problem; Johnson's son doesn't know any drug dealers and is too innocent and good-hearted to survive long in prison. Teaming with an opportunistic politician (Susan Sarandon), a grizzled FBI agent (Barry Pepper), and a family-man ex-con (Jon Bernthal), Johnson goes undercover to save his son from prison by bringing down some “big fish” with ties to powerful Mexican cartels.
Though its a bit of a stretch to cast the physically imposing Johnson as a vulnerable every-man (in a couple of scenes he's bullied by people he could easily mop the floor with), his performance is solid and goes a long way towards establishing credibility. The acting all across the board is a particular strength of the film, as is the smart screenplay which wisely takes its time allowing audiences to connect with all of the key characters, ensuring that when the action finally happens it's fraught with genuine tension. Though Snitch is at times predictable, it's emotionally engaging and provides a smart examination of the injustice of minimum mandatory sentencing laws. If you've previously viewed Dwayne Johnson as a mindless muscle-head, give Snitcha look. He does well in a different kind of role and he just may surprise you.
CONTENT OVERVIEW: Snitch is rated PG-13. It has some moderate profanity and violence (fights and shootouts with a little blood). Sexuality/nudity is not an issue with this film. Under coercion a man sniffs a line of illegal drugs to maintain his cover and save his life.
MESSAGES TO DISCUSS: Unjust laws corrode society and must be resisted (Helaman 5:2-4). Organized crime works in secret to destroy all that is good (Helaman 2:3-5). Fathers ought to have mercy on, teach, and delight in their children (Psalms 103:13; Proverbs 3:12). It takes courage to lay one's life on the line for those they love and for what's right (John 15:13). Visiting people in prison is a form of Christ-like love (Matthew 25:34-40).
JACK THE GIANT SLAYER REVIEW (GRADE: C)
Modernizing classic fairy tales must seem like easy money to Hollywood. From an excellent Rapunzel tale (Tangled) to Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters, Red Riding Hood, and two reboots of Snow White (Mirror Mirror and Snow White and the Huntsman), fairy tales lend immediate brand recognition. Now director Bryan Singer (Valkyrie, X-Men, X2, Superman Returns) tries his hand at Jack and the Beanstalk, playing fast and loose with the story while attempting to create a (somewhat) family-friendly epic.
The film is saved by its actors and a few creative flourishes by Singer. The uninspired screenplay renders every plot point predictable and is derivative of everything from Aladdin to King Kong. The giants, for their part, never look remotely believable and scream CGI as much as they do for man-flesh. The characters are all woefully underwritten archetypes and would be a total bore if not for the abundance of talented actors hired to play them.
Singer is a director of great skill and a few scenes crackle with genuine energy and vision. It’s too bad that so much of it looks fake and feels lifeless. Here’s hoping his return to the X-Men franchise next year finds him back in fine form. While parents and older kids may find Jack the Giant Slayer to be worth a matinee, young children will likely be frightened while solo adults may just want to wait for Redbox.
CONTENT OVERVIEW:Jack the Giant Slayer is rated PG-13. Apart from a couple of chaste kisses, there’s no sexuality. There’s a fair amount of giant-related violence (giants bite men’s heads off and men are eaten, though this is always either from a distance or just off-camera). The bodies of men and giants are seen after falling from the beanstalk. A giant’s head explodes and his eye shoots towards the audience. It’s possible that there’s one f-word, but it’s difficult to hear and I might be mistaken.
MESSAGE TO DISCUSS: No matter who you are or where you come from, you can accomplish great things (Alma 26:17-22).