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Snitch' not quite Rock-solid

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Action thriller first of four 2013 vehicles for wrestler

Like it or not, we're going to have to come to terms with a simple truth: the Rock is a movie star.

See, 'Snitch' is Dwayne Johnson's first film of 2013 the first of four hitting screens in the next six months. You've got the latest incarnation of 'GI Joe' at the end of March, the sixth 'Fast and Furious' offering come Memorial Day and the Michael Bay bodybuilder action movie 'Pain and Gain' early this summer.

I'm as surprised as you are; I have no idea when the shift actually happened. But sitting in my seat in advance of a showing of 'Snitch,' it became clear that said shift is very real. The Rock is our action hero heir apparent.

'Snitch' stars Johnson as Joe Matthews, a family man who owns a small construction company. He lives in suburbia with his wife and daughter. However, his son Jason (Rafi Gavron; 'The Cold Light of Day') from his previous relationship is about to turn Joe's life upside down. Jason winds up getting busted in a drug sting; due to mandatory minimums, he's looking at a 10-year prison sentence at best despite being a first-time offender. That is, unless he helps the feds bust other dealers. 

Jason's got nothing to offer, so Joe goes to U.S. Attorney (and Congressional candidate) Joanne Keeghan (Susan Sarandon; 'Cloud Atlas') and offers to help them bust a dealer. She agrees, so Joe enlists the help of one of his employees, an ex-con named Daniel James (Jon Bernthal; TV's 'The Walking Dead'), to set up a meeting.

However, things start escalating and before long, Joe and Daniel find themselves tangled up with a high-level cartel operative named El Topo (Benjamin Bratt; TV's 'Private Practice'). Joe and Daniel have to team up and find a way to take down El Topo before they and their families wind up paying the ultimate price.

It pains me to admit it, but despite my initial misgivings, 'Snitch' isn't a terrible movie. Sure, the Rock is borderline comical when he tries for drama, but even when he's out of his depth, he has an undeniable on-screen charisma. Bernthal brings some pathos to his portrayal of a man just trying to do right by his family. Bratt seems to delight in playing the bad guy, while Sarandon comes off as generally stunned that she's doing scenes with a former professional wrestler. Barry Pepper ('Broken City') does solid work as an undercover DEA agent.

You wouldn't think that the Rock could carry something that requires more than flexed biceps and he can't but the movie is entertaining despite that. Writer/director Ric Roman Waugh ('Felon') was a stuntman for years; maybe he just understands the limitations of his leading man and understands how to downplay them. 

The inconsistent tone is more of an issue, however. It starts out as a bordering-on-preachy take railing against mandatory minimums before more or less abandoning that take for more standard action fare laden with gunplay, car chases and explosions. The message seems to exist more or less to justify the 'inspired by true events' tagline that leads off the proceedings.

'Snitch' isn't a particularly good movie, but it isn't nearly as terrible as you'd expect. The truth is that it's a perfectly acceptable way to while away two hours in the movie theater. I've seen better, yesbut I've also seen a whole lot worse.

2.5 out of 5

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