There is a massive Rock in the way of "Snitch" being the movie it wants to be -- a thought-provoking story about the ills of the legal system.
The casting of Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson as a worried father who becomes a drug runner to get his son out of prison immediately suggests that this is another explosive action film. Wrong! There's some action, but it comes along in the last act -- far too late to wake those who have nodded off and are dreaming of a better movie.
In the film, based on a true story, John Matthews (Johnson) is a cool and competent boss who runs a trucking company in Missouri. The biggest problems are finding the money to buy four new trucks and the estranged life he has with his son, Jason (Rafi Gavron), from his first marriage.
He's pulled back into his son's life when Jason accepts a package from a friend loaded with enough drugs to get him a mandatory 10-year prison sentence. That sentence will be reduced if Jason sets up one of his friends. When Jason balks at that idea, his dad reaches an agreement with the district attorney (Susan Sarandon) to bring down a major drug dealer and have Jason's sentence reduced.
Here's where "Snitch" hits the first major roadblock. Audiences have been conditioned through all of Johnson's action films to believe he would never be so timid during his initial efforts to trap a drug dealer, including getting beat up by a handful of teens. The sight of Matthews beaten up looks absurd because it's hard to forget Johnson's reputation as an action star.
So much time is spent trying to make the character look wimpy that when the final action scenes come along, they feel out of context. It doesn't help that the screenplay by Justin Haythe and Ric Roman Waugh creates no context for Matthews to suddenly become a ruthless killer.
"Snitch" is similar to "Taken," with a plot line about how far a father will go to help a child in danger. "Taken" worked because Liam Neeson's character made his living tracking and killing bad guys. Nothing in "Snitch" suggests anything other than this dad knows how to run a business and never thinks through the consequences of his actions.
The most interesting character is David (Jon Bernthal), the ex-con Matthews turns to for help. His actions make sense because he's a father and husband trapped in an awful situation. His background is clear, so when he's forced to show his dark side it's not a surprise. But even he gets away with murder, creating another script problem.
Johnson turns in his best acting performance in "Snitch," but it's a valiant effort in a losing battle. Someone should have spilled the beans to director Waugh that Johnson wasn't the right choice for this role.
"Snitch," rated PG-13 for drugs, violence. Stars Dwayne Johnson, Susan Sarandon, Barry Pepper, Jon Bernthal, Benjamin Bratt. Directed by Ric Roman Waugh. Running time: 1 hour, 52 minutes. Grade: C- Theaters and times for this movie | Other movie reviews
TV and movie critic Rick Bentley can be reached at (559) 441-6355, firstname.lastname@example.org or @RickBentley1 on Twitter. Read his blog at fresnobeehive.com.