02/22/2013 08:09 am ET Updated Apr 24, 2013

Movie Review: Snitch

In Snitch, Dwayne Johnson -- still probably better known as The Rock -- plays a normal guy pressed into action to help save his son from a 10-year stretch in prison because of the mandatory-minimum sentencing drug laws in Missouri, where the film is set.

And that injustice -- the kid was a dupe, caught in a situation with the drugs in his possession by a hard-charging prosecutor - is the rather flimsy hook on which the entire movie hangs.

While this could nominally be considered an action film -- because of a couple of shoot-outs and car chases -- Snitch is more a dramatic thriller with violence thrown in.

The story of a straight-arrow businessman forced to think like a criminal to rescue his offspring, from whom he's been estranged since he divorced and remarried, the film is a a semi-daring move for Johnson, with its focus on the dramatic rather than the action. He's shown more layers as an actor than you might expect in the past. But this role seems underwritten, for him to rely on his acting chops (and a padded, overly talkative script by Justin Haythe) to get by.

Here, he's the angry father, then the anguished parent, then the expedient businessman forced to live by his wits and rapidly acquire some street smarts. Johnson does make us believe this John Matthews is someone who can talk the cops -- specifically, a politically ambitious U.S. attorney played by an under-used Susan Sarandon -- into letting him go undercover to trap a drug dealer, in exchange for shortening his son's sentence. But he's also someone who can maintain his cool when dealing with a gun-happy inner-city dealer named Malik (Michael K. Williams) or with his supplier, the silkily threatening El Topo (Benjamin Bratt).

But the script, while advertised as "inspired by real events," doesn't find many places to go, which is surprising, given the level of double-cross and infiltration implied. Since they were fictionalizing it anyway, why not give it a little life?

Yet Johnson makes the most of his scenes; he apparently can shed tears on cue, though he still can't transcend weak writing. There's a difference between intensity and emotional intensity, something Johnson has problems navigating and calibrating.

Snitch is competent but uninspired, and uninspiring. I'm still waiting for Johnson to be teamed with a script as good as the one he had in, say, The Rundown. Until then, he's not really making movies -- just cranking out product.

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