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March 1, 2013

Dwayne Johnson survives being a 'Snitch'

It takes forever to get going, and lollygags along even after that.

As a businessman scrambling to find a way to get his son’s federal prison sentence, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson has to play fear, tough love, pity and panic — and he’s a bit in over his head.

But that’s the point of “Snitch,” a straight-no-chaser thriller “inspired by a true story.” The pacing is off, too many scenes lack dramatic punch and play like filler. But Johnson is pretty good at being a guy in over his head, sharing scenes with flinty pros like Susan Sarandon, Benjamin Bratt and Barry Pepper.

It’s a tale of a civilian who gets mixed up in the feds-vs.-Mexican drug cartels war, whose “mandatory minimum sentencing” has snared John Matthews’ naive 18-year-old son. The prosecutor (Sarandon) is a hard case, readying a run for Congress. So John makes a deal — he’ll get “an introduction” into that world through his construction supply business. He’ll use his Jefferson City, Mo., trucks for transport, and they’ll nail big players from the cartel.

Co-writer director Ric Roman Waugh is a stuntman turned director. But he wastes a staggering amount of time setting that scenario up, and even more time getting to the point where his no-digital stunt experience pays off. Some of that establishes that John is a fish out of water and shows us his learning curve. Mostly, though, that slow pacing robs the story of tension and suspense.

What gives it juice is the supporting cast. Jon Bernthal (Shane in “The Walking Dead”) is credibly wary as the ex-con John begs to get him in the door of the drug world. And the terrific Michael Kenneth Williams is the first dealer he meets, a guy who pulls a gun on him just to test him.

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