Critics "Snitch" on Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson's new movie

Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson stars in "Snitch." Steve Dietl/Summit Entertainment

WWE Hall of Fame wrestler-turned-action-movie star Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson will say and do anything to protect his incarcerated son in "Snitch," but critics aren't exactly buying it.

In the new crime thriller, now out in theaters, Johnson plays a small business owner who helps the FBI bring down drug cartels in exchange for a lighter prison sentence for his teenaged-son facing felony trafficking charges.

As far-fetched as the plot may sound, it's based on true events. The story comes from a 1999 PBS Frontline report which was also called "Snitch."

The film was directed by noted Hollywood stuntman Ric Roman Waugh and co-stars Barry Pepper, Susan Sarandon and former "The Walking Dead" cast member Jon Bernthal, who recently spoke to CBSNews.com about several of his latest projects. [Watch video at left.]

Aside from the explosions, "Snitch" clearly has a message behind it: criticizing alleged flaws in mandatory prison sentences for first-time drug offenders.

Several reviewers, meanwhile, have had their own criticisms of the film. Some have praised Johnson's performance as a step in the right direction, but others were less impressed with the film's story and direction:

Mary Pols, TIME: "'Snitch' wasn't going to be good no matter what Johnson did; it is so poorly directed that even Academy Award-winner Susan Sarandon, playing a shrewish federal prosecutor, comes off as a hack straight off a soap opera. "

Betsy Sharkey, Los Angeles Times: "All the talking would be fine, but the dialogue is preachy, the drama too earnest and the action kind of sluggish, though it's hard not to get a jolt when Johnson jumps behind the wheel."

Stephen Holden, N.Y. Times: "Mr. Johnson's screen presence, however charismatic, is out of sync with the rest of the movie. Although he projects an anguished sincerity in the father-son scenes, he lacks in his performance the nuance that defines an ordinary mortal."

Richard Roeper, Chicago Sun-Times: "Who would have guessed Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson would deliver the best work of his career playing a guy who squares off against a pack of small-time street thugs -- and winds up face down on the ground, his mug bloodied and his wallet gone."

Mick LaSalle, S.F. Gate: "'Snitch' is not the usual action movie. It's too odd for that. Based on a true story, it has the weirdness of real life, which is good. But also like real life, it has that funny way of not making much sense or being all that enjoyable.

Scott Tobias, N.P.R.: "Dwayne Johnson can be a fine, effortlessly charismatic actor, but for much of 'Snitch,' he's The Rock."

Claudia Puig, USA Today: "In its focus on an ordinary family facing a nightmarish scenario, 'Snitch' is a terrifying but relatable story."

Todd McCarthy, The Hollywood Reporter: "Unusual for this sort of thing, 'Snitch' is a film after which you remember the characters and actors more than the big action moments. Never removing his shirt, Johnson behaves within a narrow range but is engagingly distressed and stalwart in equal measure, conveying sufficient feeling and subtext to suggest the actor could be entrusted with greater dramatic challenges in the future."

Tell us: Do you plan to see "Snitch"?

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    Ken Lombardi is an entertainment reporter for CBS News. He has interviewed over 300 celebrities, including Clint Eastwood, Oprah Winfrey and Tom Hanks.

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