What Dad doesn’t feel guilty about the son with his divorced wife, especially after he re-marries and starts a new family? Of course, he wants everybody to be one, big, happy blended family, but it rarely works that way. More often, his son from his first wife gets the leftovers of his time and attention. And if the Dad is a busy, hard-driving career man, well, that just makes it all the more difficult, doesn’t it?
Dwayne (“The Rock”) Johnson plays John Matthews, a successful businessman who began as a truck driver, and has since parlayed truck ownership into a small fleet, and now presides over a bustling distribution warehouse, as well. He’s preoccupied, but pretty happy with his personal life, with his cute young wife and their adorable little daughter. But trouble looms on his horizon. His son, Jason (Rafi Gavron) is now a senior in high school, and we meet him while he’s talking to his best buddy on Skype. The buddy wants to send him a package. Jason is trying to say No, but his buddy doesn’t seem to want to take “No” for an answer. The next thing we know, Jason is accepting the package, delivered the next day to his front door, and since it contains an electronic tracking device, that’s when the feds come bursting in, guns drawn, all ready to arrest Jason not just for possession, but intent to distribute.
The predictable plea bargaining is a disaster. Jason doesn’t have anyone to give up to them; his “buddy” has already given him up to save himself. The new “mandatory sentencing” drug trafficking laws, for which there appears to be no negotiating, demand a 10-year sentence. When John Matthews goes to see his son in prison, he is appalled at the way he is being continually assaulted and nobody seems to care. John is determined to do something, and manages to get the federal prosecutor (played by Susan Sarandon) to allow him to infiltrate the drug ring in exchange for his son’s release.
What we expect to happen now is our leading muscleman to go in and kick butt and take names, the righteous avenger who emerges unschathed from his descent into the Hades of the drug trafficking underworld. Suburban Dad loses the nice guy persona, and suddenly becomes an action hero. But thankfully, in this movie, it’s not as simple as that. The only thing John Matthews can really offer, besides money, is a “clean” truck for shipping purposes. And it turns out that with the “big boys,” the need is not so much for shipping the drugs up from Mexico (there are plenty of anonymous “mules” for that), but shipping the money back---the wire transfer option now too closely monitored by the feds. So it’s the cash that needs smuggling, back across the border.
The local thugs that Matthews turns up look suitably intimidating, but in reality, they’re just the lowest rung in the ladder. Their supplier is in turn connected to a kingpin, “El Topo” (Benjamin Bratt), which makes the federal prosecutor’s office delirious with anticipation, she being a candidate for political office, and all that. Her minions try to warn Matthews that he may be getting in over his head here (you think?). But Matthews is not completely without resources: he recruits an employee with a criminal history to help him navigate through this violent labyrinth. And Matthews sends his family away, aware that these cold-eyed guys he’s dealing with aren’t going to play nice, and he’s certainly right about that.
OK, it’s still an unlikely scenario, but at least it’s remotely believable. And with the good secondary performances around Mr. Johnson, most of what he has to overcome with the viewer is looking like the chiseled bodybuilder he is instead of the typical soft-bellied suburban Dad. Sure, the plot-driven movie drags in places, despite interspersed action scenes. But it’s better than you’d think. After all, who doesn’t want to see drug traffickers get their just desserts, and better yet, turn on each other? And it also raises the harrowing, complex question of uneven distribution of prison sentencing. Not to mention The Return of the Deadbeat Dad.
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Minister, St. Stephen’s Presbyterian Church, Irving, Texas