Professional Review by Michael LoManaco 07/02/09; Region 1 (U.S.) Release Tested
Studio Name: 20th Century Fox/WWE Studios
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Disc Information: 1080p 2.35:1
Video Codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Tested Audio Track: English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
Director: Renny Harlin
Starring Cast: John Cena, Ashley Scott, Steve Harris
LoMANACO'S PLOT ANALYSIS:
I don't know what the fascination is with "WWE Superstar" John Cena, but I surely don't get it. Yes, I was raised on Rowdy Roddy Piper, Hulk Hogan and George the Animal Steele, but I really don't understand modern day wrestling -- at least since Vince McMahon turned this into "WWE" and created characters like that little leprechaun that runs about and John Cena. I mean, a guy who gets in the ring with denim shorts and salutes, yet looks like the average schmuck I unfortunately see getting out of their pickup trucks to stroll into our local White Trash Mart -- I mean Wal Mart? That's who is reppin' the WWE as of late? I have a statement for you, Mr. McMahon...forget your tussles with Donnie Trump and bring back Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, okay?
Billed as a high-octane thriller from the likes of Renny Harlin -- who apparently didn't collect enough royalty checks off Exorcist: The Beginning, Deep Blue Sea or Die Hard 2 because he was too busy drinking it up with skanky dime store hookers in Vegas -- 12 Rounds was merely a vehicle to further Cena's "career" in acting. Did you ever see The Marine? That should have been all she wrote for this guy's circuit in Hollywood. Unfortunately, Harlin seemed to be up to his tricks once again and decided to team up with "WWE Studios" in order to bring Cena's name to the billboards once more. To say he's horrendously wooden in this would be a dire understatement.
I recall seeing the trailer for 12 Rounds on the Taken Blu-ray by Fox, and I must admit it intrigued me -- even if the hints at the dialogue were ridiculously cheesy: "I will hunt you down...and I will kill you!" exclaims Cena in the trailer, speaking to the terrorist that took his wife hostage...is he trying to be like Neeson in Taken with that remark? Is this actually a Taken spin-off, based on this little clip? Well, the film itself doesn't even feel like a Renny Harlin picture -- and I have been exposed to all of them. While I enjoyed Die Hard 2, Deep Blue Sea and even Exorcist: The Beginning, it has been established within certain circles that he's a "hack" director; be that as it may, the guy seems to be able to craft an action film when he wants to. The problem with 12 Rounds is it ends up feeling like a borrowed mess of Speed, Die Hard with a Vengeance, Passenger 57 and a gaggle of other terrorist-leaves-clues-for-the-cops thrillers that have come and gone over the years. Worse, Harlin's style choice of making the camera jump and shake all over the place in every frame becomes tiring after five minutes. We'll get to that.
This really did feel like a direct-to-video release, only it was missing Steven Seagal. It just had a cheap, amateurish feel to it -- regardless of the fact that a fairly known director was behind it along with some underrated character actors such as Steve Harris (Against the Wall, The Rock) in it. Cena tries to play tough guy in his role as a New Orleans cop but it's just not believable by any stretch of the imagination -- he belongs back in the ring in his denim shorts. In a confusing mess of an opening sequence -- made all the worse by Harlin's unsteady camera action -- Steve Harris plays an FBI agent hot on the tail of a wanted madman. Cena, meanwhile, is a New Orleans cop working his beat with his partner one night when they overhear the FBI transmissions of the pursuit of the criminal. The bad guy in this is so pathetically not frightening compared to, say, Dennis Hopper in Speed that he almost becomes a mockery of himself. Eluding the FBI, of course, the bad guy and his way sexy girl think they're out of the woods as they cruise the back streets of New Orleans, but Cena ends up arriving and mistakenly causing the death of the bad guy's **** buddy. This wasn't good for Cena's Danny Fischer character.
A year later, Cena receives a call from the demented madman, who apparently has escaped from prison and has set up a series of traps and "games" for Cena to play, all so he can save his sexy girlfriend's (Ashley Scott) life who has been abducted by the villain. Now, it's so clear that Harlin was going for a direct copy of Die Hard with a Vengeance here, what with the traps set all over a city that the hero must overcome one by one, but it just doesn't work as well as John McTiernan's film -- namely because Jeremy Irons was so much better as the terrorizing villain, but mostly because it's been done before. The reason behind Cena's girlfriend's abduction? As always, it's about revenge -- the villain blames Cena for his girl's death a year ago, and now he is going to go "12 rounds" with Cena as payback, making him run wild all over New Orleans in order to save his chick's life.
So, you wondered where the title of the film came from, did ye? The "12 rounds" refers to the stages in which the bad guy puts Cena through; each "round" will lead to the final round, where Cena should be able to get his girl back if he accomplished all the previous obstacles -- just like Die Hard with a Vengeance. And so Cena, Harris and the FBI run amok in Louisiana, following the cell phone-ordered tasks set by this madman who has Scott tied up in restraints. As the villain evades phone traces and hops from location to location (a la Speed and In the Line of Fire) Cena enters a series of obstacles to overcome. These range from trying to save a massively obese security guard from falling down an elevator shaft to stopping a cable car when our bad guy causes the brakes to fail -- right out of Spider-Man 2! The cable car action setpiece takes up a good amount of the second half of the running time, and just gets tiring even though it's the centerpiece of the film.
The dialogue in the film is a massive problem -- it's just horrible. Actors yell their lines back and forth as if this was their first job, and it simply heightens that amateur feel I described earlier. Even Steve Harris -- who I actually respect as an underrated actor -- delivered lines so cheesy and made gestures so embarrassing, I couldn't stand to watch sometimes. The final act -- as it approaches "the 12th round" -- goes from a face to face confrontation between the bad guy and Cena aboard a public bus while Scott has dynamite strapped to her chest (as in Speed) to a implausible helicopter scene in which Cena and our terrorist kidnapper duke it out while Scott manages to fly the chopper without hydraulic power. If you think I'm kidding about this, it gets worse -- Harlin would have us believe that the two of them survived a drop into a rooftop swimming pool from the doomed chopper hundreds of feet above as it explodes from the madman's dynamite. Okay.
As I said, it was obvious this was merely a "launching vehicle" by WWE for Cena's acting career advancement. It had an amateurish feel and Harlin's use of the unsteadycam was a nightmare. I've seen worse films, but this wasn't that great. It definitely had a direct-to-video sense about it.
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