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, hasn’t exactly chosen wisely in his roles, though he’s been effective in at least a couple (“Be Cool” and “Fast Five” come to mind). But he’s at least always looked like he’s 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 who’s 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 naïve 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 he’s 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. It’s 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: He’ll work his way into a big dealer’s gang, then turn him in to the Feds.
There’s 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 wouldn’t help – but never bothers to develop them. Worse, the script features a number of scenes that start with some sort of premise (John’s wife finds out what he’s up to, and reprimands him), then cut away to an unrelated scene without letting the first one come to any kind of conclusion.
There’s 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 there’s 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 aren’t earned; they come out of nowhere and don’t offer any sense of satisfaction. Purely violence for the sake of violence. This was another mistake for Johnson. Let’s see what he can do with the
Page 2 of 2 - 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