Feb. 23 (Bloomberg) -- For a drug-cartel thriller pasted onto a sentimental family drama, “Snitch” is surprisingly (probably unnecessarily) classy.
It starts with the arrest of an 18-year-old (Rafi Gavron) who allowed a friend to ship him a big package of ecstasy. Facing 10 years in jail, he refuses to do what’s been done to him: set up somebody else in order to save his own skin. He won’t snitch.
So his distraught father (Dwayne Johnson, aka The Rock), a straight-arrow workaholic who owns a construction company, determines to satisfy the ambitious U.S. Attorney (Susan Sarandon) by nabbing a dealer on his own.
Dumb as it sounds, it zips along. Taking a stand against mandatory minimum sentences seems to have provided the director, Ric Roman Waugh, and the actors with a sense of purpose.
Jon Bernthal, in particular, gives the movie heart as a two-strike ex-con who works at the construction company and consents -- reluctantly -- to introduce his boss to a drug kingpin.
Only in the last half-hour does “Snitch” lower its aims and jack up the violence to nitwit level. Then again, few pictures of its ilk have any aims to lower.
“Snitch,” from Summit Entertainment, is playing across the U.S. Rating: *** (Seligman)
For the time being, “Girls” costar Alex Karpovsky is probably stuck with the cranky barista persona that’s made him a favorite on that HBO series.
But starring roles in two of his own micro-budget indie films (released as a double feature in New York by Tribeca Film) suggest a future that won’t involve lattes or Lena Dunham.
In the comedy “Red Flag,” writer/director Karpovsky takes a page from Larry David by playing an enhanced (one hopes) version of himself: a dyspeptic, self-obsessed indie filmmaker schlepping DVDs of his movie through a two-week art-house screening tour.
Dumped by his girlfriend, Rachel (Caroline White), the lonely Alex recruits his friend Henry (Onur Tukel) to come along for company, but first impulsively hooks up with a film-geek fan (Jennifer Prediger) who doesn’t quite get the concept of a one-night stand.
Soon enough, the guileless Henry has fallen for the stalkerish fan (unaware of her night with Alex) and invited her along, prompting some hilariously cringe-worthy moments in the rental car, cheap motels and crummy diners that constitute the low-budget life of a struggling filmmaker.
Karpovsky shot much of this ambling comedy during an art-house tour of his earlier movie “Woodpecker.” Even when it drifts, “Red Flag” feels authentic, from its grim, barely filled auditoriums to its raw heartache.
In “Rubberneck,” a creepy, slow-paced psycho-thriller, Karpovsky flips to the other side of the stalker equation. He plays Paul, a Boston research scientist obsessed with a coworker (Jamie Ray Newman) with whom he had a drunken fling.
Co-written by Karpovsky and Garth Donovan, “Rubberneck” charts Paul’s mental deterioration, the tension stretched well beyond his breaking point and my patience. A genuine shock leads to an ending that’s as pat as it is gruesome.
“Red Flag” and “Rubberneck,” from Tribeca Film, are playing in New York and available via video on demand. Rating: *** (“Red Flag”) and ** (“Rubberneck”). (Evans)
Marisa Tomei can’t melt into a foreign accent the way Meryl Streep can. But then Meryl Streep doesn’t have Marisa Tomei’s way with mascara.
As Fatima, a hardened Syrian woman who hasn’t stopped fuming for the 20 years since her lover left her, Tomei brings dark gorgeousness and angry intensity to the Damascus-set thriller “Inescapable.”
Alas, she’s not around that much. Most of the screen time goes to Alexander Siddig, who plays an erstwhile Syrian intelligence officer who long ago fled the country under a cloud and risks returning to track down his missing daughter.
He knows how to slip across the border and whom to bribe. Otherwise, his spooking skills seem to have rusted. He makes an ugly scene at a mosque; his general tendency to yell, threaten and brawl doesn’t suit a wanted man who’s trying to lay low.
(And for an anguished father who’s desperate for information, he takes a weirdly long time to answer a ringing phone or a knock on the door.)
Though ostensibly a political thriller, “Inescapable” doesn’t acknowledge any Syrian-specific political problems beyond the presence of “15 separate secret police agencies” and a vaguely awful government.
As written and directed by Ruba Nadda, the movie could just as well be set in Islamabad, Nairobi or any city Westerners find threatening. (It was filmed, in fact, in Johannesburg.) It would look about right on a cable channel at 9 p.m.
“Inescapable,” from IFC Films, is playing in New York and Los Angeles. Rating: ** (Seligman)
What the Stars Mean: ***** Fantastic **** Excellent *** Good ** So-So * Poor (No stars) Avoid
(Greg Evans and Craig Seligman are critics for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are their own.)
Muse highlights include Lance Esplund on art and a Lewis Lapham podcast.
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at email@example.com.