Dwayne Johnson may not be ready for an all-beef "Hamlet," but the ex-wrestler/box-office magnet is a pretty good actor -- better than director Ric Roman Waugh deserves in "Snitch," a fairly formulaic, shabbily scripted tale about a respectable suburbanite named John Matthews bringing down a Mexican drug cartel, in order to convince the feds to free his (sort-of) falsely imprisoned son. Laugh if you will; no one buying a ticket to "Snitch" will be expecting a documentary.
In fact, the documentary has already been made: Last year, Eugene Jarecki released "The House I Live In," a scathing indictment of the War on Drugs, and "Snitch" follows the same line of reasoning in (almost) easily digestible form. The point of both is that U.S. drug laws have become so onerous and the process so politically polluted that something must be done, and what John tries to do is meant as emblematic of the desperation engendered by the laws themselves.
With his son Jason (Rafi Gavron) facing a 10-year mandatory sentence and refusing to incriminate anyone else, John is driven toward an elaborate scheme to bring down a local drug distributor. When his efforts lead instead to an international drug kingpin (Benjamin Bratt), the federal prosecutor (Susan Sarandon) pushes John into a far more dangerous situation than he ever gambled on. His son is the carrot, and Sarandon is the stick.
That Johnson is the size of an apartment building is never part of the equation (although it is a bit distracting). Matthews is not ex-military, or even an ex-wrestler; he never physically dominates anyone, and this marks something of a shift in the career of Johnson, the charismatic screen personality. Unfortunately, and despite some pretty solid acting -- John Bernthal of "Walking Dead" is great as the ex-con who's trying to go straight until Waugh's plotline ruins his life -- the movie embraces too many action tropes, and ultimately goes haywire with a protracted truck chase replete with high-caliber weapons and a rather blithe attitude toward various laws of physics.
Ultimately, the social-issue element of the movie gets buried in the wreckage, but it's comforting to know it's there.
PLOT A father goes undercover for the government in order to free his son, unfairly imprisoned over a drug deal. RATING PG-13 (drug content and sequences of violence)
BOTTOM LINE Surprisingly low-key action film with a commendable criminal-justice agenda, and pretty solid Rock.
Four more wrestlers-turned-actors
Besides Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson -- arguably the most successful of the lot -- here are four other WWE/WWF wrestlers who have transferred their acting skills from the ring to the big screen:
ANDRE THE GIANT -- His most notable role was as the heartwarming Fezzik the Giant in Rob Reiner's cult fave "The Princess Bride" (1987).
JOHN CENA -- The 10-time WWE champ's movie career includes three produced by WWE Films: "The Marine" (2006), "12 Rounds" (2009) and "Legendary" (2010).
HULK HOGAN -- The Hulkster first appeared as Thunderlips in "Rocky III" (1982), filmed before he actually joined the then-WWF. He soon went on to star in such classics as "No Holds Barred" (1989), "Suburban Commando" (1991) and "Mr. Nanny" (1993)
JESSE "THE BODY" VENTURA -- The future governor of Minnesota's credits include "Predator" (1987), "The Running Man" (1987), "Demolition Man" (1993) and "Batman & Robin" (1997).
-- Andy Edelstein