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Just when it was starting to look like Dwayne “The Rock®” Johnson was going back to professional wrestling for good (and after last year’s dire Journey 2: The Mysterious Island, who could blame him?), he’s back in theaters with four movies in the next three months. It’s fortunate that Snitch is the first of the pack, as it’s likely to be the best of the bunch, and it would be sad if this earnest and exciting crime drama got lost in the dust.

Inspired by a Frontline documentary about the failures and abuses of harsh mandatory drug sentencing laws, Snitch stars Johnson as John Matthews, owner of a construction trucking company. His 18-year-old son Jason (Rafi Gavron) is entrapped when he agrees to receive a UPS shipment of ecstasy from a friend who was caught by the feds and finds he can only escape hard prison time by giving up someone else. Like a deadly game of hot potato, Jason now faces an obligatory minimum sentence of 10 years, or as much as 30 should he plead innocent. His only hope is to give up someone else, in turn, but he doesn’t know anyone in the drug business and refuses to entrap someone else.

That’s where his father comes in. John figures that with the number of ex-cons he employs, he should be able to find someone who knows someone he can set up. His plan succeeds all too well, to the point where the ambitious federal prosecutor (Susan Sarandon) presses him into a deal that may help her bring down a Mexican drug lord at the cost of John’s own life.

Invisibly moving from docudrama to action thriller, Snitch succeeds reasonably well in both arenas. This may be an extreme example of a relative innocent, but there is no lack of rigid laws that please voters but don’t do what they’re intended. Johnson gets to show his abilities as an actor in a role that requires him neither to throw a punch nor shoot a gun (though a scene where he’s pulled out of his car and beaten by a trio of drug dealers strains credulity a bit). Action fans will be more than satisfied with a well-shot finale with Johnson driving a big rig. And there’s an excellent cast including Michael Kenneth Williams (The Wire, Boardwalk Empire) as a low-level dealer, Jon Bernthal (The Walking Dead) as an employee trying to clean up his life, and Barry Pepper in a role I’ll bet they tried to get John Hawkes for.

Watch the trailer for Snitch

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