12 Rounds is basically a throwback to your mad bomber movie that was all the rage back in the 1990s. It’s what would happen if Blown Away kidnapped Speed and only Die Hard With A Vengeance could save the day. The only thing that places this in 2009 is the continued trend of Hollywood studios and their directors to indulge in that hyper-style, over-done editing and camera tricks (basically what Oliver Stone did in Natural Born Killers but without the social commentary), which is usually the trademark of the headache inducing efforts of Tony Scott and not Renny Harlin who is at the helm here (he of Die Hard 2 and Cliffhanger) 12 Rounds is also another vehicle for WCW star John Cena who looks like Matt Damon if he was bolted by Gamma Rays. I mean this guy is huge; his neck looks as thick as an oil-rigger’s thigh. The most fascinating stuff in the film is watching this guy handle a phone or hold a gun in his massive paws; he looks like he crush them into dust at any second if he exerted any pressure. Cena plays a New Orleans cop who has unbelievably attractive wife, played by some slinky blonde model, with whom he has quaint fights about finding his badge that was left on the “thingy” (a shelf). He cruises the streets in a squad car with his partner a black guy who is stereotypically hypersexual and stumbles into an FBI hunt for an Irish bomber for hire named Miles Jackson played by The Wire’s Senator Carcetti. While the FBI drop the ball in their surveillance, Cena through his intuitive powers spots the bad guy with his own sexy wife, played by some slinky brunette model, and winds up pursuing their speeding car ON FOOT because he’s John freaking Cena and he doesn’t need a car to chase bad guys; he is a car! He ends up throwing a boat in front of their car, but when he draws down on the two criminals with a gun, a truck accidentally flattens the sexy wife of the bomber. Miles Jackson glowers and says to Cena, “I’ll remember you!”
One year later and Cena wakes up a Detective and finds his wife on his case about the plumbing and wouldn’t you know it he gets a call from Miles Jackson who says it’s their “anniversary” and that he wants to pay back Cena for taking away his wife. Then his car explodes and then his house explodes, which sets up a precedent that the movie sticks to of having an explosion every twenty minutes. Before you know it, Miles Jackson talks about how this is all a “game” and that they have “12 rounds”, which basically amounts to him telling Cena to drive like hell across New Orleans and stop another explosion from happening. The “12 rounds” concept is shoe-horned in there as if to touch upon Cena’s background as a wrestler without there being any reason for it in the film (I know there’s a scene where Miles interrupts a chess game and predicts each player’s move in that way that shows us he’s a bloody genius, but it’s not enough to explain all this “onto the next clue” and “game over” business that seems more the handiwork of a Batman villain than an Irish terrorist). In terms of the action stakes, there’s some good stuff here including Cena commandeering a souped up 1970s sports car to race a ferry, Cena launching from the top of a building with a hose just like in Die Hard, and Cena escaping out of an elevator that crashes into the ground, taking a fat security guard named Willie plummeting to his death. This last stunt is kinda funny because we only meet Willie five minutes before he dies (though he does mention he has a “wife and kids” if we want to feel sorry for him) and it carries the underlying lesson that if he wasn’t so fat and was instead buff like John Cena he’d be alive today (Cena should show this clip at schools if he ever gets involved in a Schwarzenegger style initiative to get kids fit). Anyway the best sequence is when Cena tries to stop an out of control tram from crashing into a nice street festival by planting his car in front of it, jumping out to help the driver stop the tram (that doesn’t work), jumping on top to separate the electrical wires (that doesn’t work), jumping back into the car in front of the tram, telling his FBI off-sider “that didn’t work” and then finally jumping out of the car as he drives it into the city’s electricity generator. There is some hilarious ADR business with dubbed generic lines from the tram driver telling Cena “I can’t steer” and “This thing is out of control!”
Now Cena excels with regards to the physical stuff, running around and shouting generic action dialogue like “If you hurt my wife, I will hunt you down and kill you!” or “You lose!” Y’know, stuff that’s par for the course for a wrestler in the ring. However, when he is called to do emotional stuff or just generally conversational exchanges, his eyes are like that of an obedient canine awaiting treats in between takes (I cannot claim credit for this description; my friend Mitch read this line in a review of 12 Rounds somewhere). I think he needs a wacky black comedian buddy for his next film, like JD from Scrubs if he’s available, to rub off some personality onto his hulking mass. Cena impressed me in his first, The Marine, which was awesomely bullshit and came out straight to DVD in Australia. 12 Rounds doesn’t quite reach the heights of The Marine but it’s still entertaining to the degree if you find intermittent explosions and implausible action sequences entertaining. I have hope for Cena though; he and Jason Statham represent our hope for the action movie hero in our contemporary period.