As I was leaving an advance screening of this new action movie starring Dwayne Johnson, a critic friend of mine said to me, I liked The Tooth Fairy better, referring to an earlier, really bad Johnson movie. It was a joke on her part, but she sure was right. That film was far above this one in writing, acting, directing and entertainment value. And remember, it was a dog.

Johnson, who cut back on his wrestling career as The Rock, in order to go for movie star status, hasnt exactly chosen wisely in his roles, though hes been effective in at least a couple (Be Cool and Fast Five come to mind). But hes at least always looked like hes having a good time up on the screen, even in throw-away movies such as Race to Witch Mountain and Journey 2: The Mysterious Island.

But this time out, as a hard-working construction boss whos doing what he can to reduce an unfair prison sentence his son is facing, he looks uncomfortable. No, his character is not supposed to be having a good time; in fact, his well-meaning but nave John Matthews is under a lot of stress, from many different angles. But despite a couple of practically trademarked big, white widescreen smiles, Johnson appears to be an actor who knows hes working with a script that has nothing going for it.

His estranged son Jason (Rafi Gavron) reluctantly agrees to accept a package from a drug-dealing friend, is caught, and is tossed into the slammer, for a possible 10 years, when that friend rats on Jason as part of a plea bargain. Its up to John, after making a deal with politically ambitious District Attorney Joanne Keeghan (Susan Sarandon, slumming), to do some snitching of his own to get the kid released. The deal: Hell work his way into a big dealers gang, then turn him in to the Feds.

Theres promise in the story, if only the story was written in a coherent manner. But this is a film that keeps introducing characters some of whom speak so unintelligibly, even subtitles wouldnt help but never bothers to develop them. Worse, the script features a number of scenes that start with some sort of premise (Johns wife finds out what hes up to, and reprimands him), then cut away to an unrelated scene without letting the first one come to any kind of conclusion.

Theres also an awful lot of talk, along with an attempt to build up some tension. But hardly anything actually happens in the first hour. Too bad that theres also almost a full second hour, one that leads to an inevitable and standard eruption of violence involving blazing guns and fiery car crashes (and, OK, one very cool 18-wheeler truck stunt). Yet even with mayhem finally arriving in its closing moments, the sequences arent earned; they come out of nowhere and dont offer any sense of satisfaction. Purely violence for the sake of violence. This was another mistake for Johnson. Lets see what he can do with the
upcoming G.I. Joe and Fast & Furious sequels (and at Wrestlemania 29).
Ed Symkus covers movies for GateHouse Media.

Written by Justin Haythe and Ric Roman Waugh; directed by Ric Roman Waugh
With Dwayne Johnson, Susan Sarandon, Barry Pepper, Jon Bernthal
Rated PG-13