Here, he’s John Matthews, a successful businessman with a trophy wife (Nadine Velazquez, Flight) and an adorable little daughter. He doesn’t live with his other child from his starter marriage, Jason (Rafi Gavron, Celeste & Jesse Forever), now a high school senior.
He’s a good kid. He just has bad taste in friends, one of whom gets Jason to accept a shipment of Ecstasy pills on his behalf. It arrives on Jason’s doorstep mere moments before DEA agents do, and the kid is charged with distribution of narcotics and faces a minimum of 10 years in federal prison.
As if to pay his son back for not being there when he needed him most, John makes a deal with the U.S. attorney on the case (Susan Sarandon, Arbitrage): He’ll bring her a real, big-time drug dealer, dangling his construction biz and its border-crossing semis as a lure — all this to deliver an airtight arrest so Jason’s sentence will be reduced to a year, tops. She agrees, so enlists the help of an ex-con employee (Jon Bernthal, TV’s The Walking Dead) to become a narc — a Snitch, if you will.
Stuntman-turned-writer/director Ric Roman Waugh shrewdly plays against the expectations of his target audience in casting Johnson. As I’m sure the film’s few viewers did, those watching at home will wonder, “Hey, so when’s The Rock going to deliver beatdown after beatdown?” The answer they don’t want to hear: He’s not.
Instead, he acts, for once not relying on his imposing figure to carry all the weight. We know Johnson can score with comedy, but he’s an unknown quantity with drama. That changes with Snitch: While he remains in no danger of year-end awards buzz, he hardly embarrasses himself. It’s a valiant, admirable try.
The movie is not quite up to his level. For being based on a true story, the premise isn’t sold credibly enough by Waugh, and the script sits at a made-for-TV level. A couple of action sequences — and only a couple, as this is not an action movie — ups the ante, as does Johnson’s all-in doggedness, to merit recommending. As has been apparent since 2002’s The Scorpion King, the man is a bona fide movie star. Why has it taken so long for America to catch up?—Rod Lott