I tend to wince a bit when I see these films that star wrestling names and are produced in conjunction with one of the WW A-Z’s. I’ve come to believe that WW means “Won’t Wow”. Along comes John Cena and this latest cooperative film, 12 Rounds. I have to say I was somewhat surprised to find that it was a pretty good action thriller, if a bit implausible. I’m willing to overlook certain aspects of inplauability, if you take me on a thrilling enough ride and try not to totally insult my intelligence. For the most part I found that to be the case here. Cena doesn’t feel the need to work in impractical wrestling moves on his opponents. In fact most of the action is not the hand to hand tripe these movies tend to lean toward. You’ll find plenty of action sequences. There’s a pretty cool runaway rail car, plenty of car chases with the expected carnage that follows, and enough gun play to drive home the point. Renny Harlin, the director, worked on the second Die Hard film, so you know he has a good eye for this kind of action. And while no one will confuse him with John Woo, I think you’ll get enough of an adrenaline hit here to make the 2 hours worthwhile… until we get to the end. More on that later.
A sting to bring down a dangerous terrorist goes horribly awry when the fed’s informant has a sudden change of heart. The result is a lot of shooting, chasing, and dead guys on both sides of the law. Patrol officer Danny Fisher (Cena) is one of the cops drawn into the chase and eventual takedown of the chief terrorist, Miles Jackson (Gillen). In the mayhem that follows, Jackson’s wife is killed. Jackson blames Fisher for the death and vows his revenge.
It’s one year later, and both Fisher and his partner are now detectives. They were promoted for bringing down Jackson. But Jackson has escaped, and he’s not forgotten Danny Fisher at all. He kidnaps Molly (Scott), Danny’s girlfriend, and threatens to take away from Danny what was taken away from him. These diabolical super villains might be crazy, but they’re not totally without honor. Jackson has developed an elaborate game of puzzles and events for Danny to deal with. The proposition is that if Danny can survive and solve the 12 rounds of the game, he’ll release Molly and forget the whole thing. Now in a game not unlike the third Die Hard film, Danny races from crisis to crisis. He’s hampered by FBI Agent George Aiken (Harris) who has been tracking Jackson his entire career and has an Ahab fixation on the criminal. Danny finishes the game only to discover that there was more behind the game than simply revenge.
I’m not ready to knight John Cena as the next Arnold, but I was quite impressed with his turn here. Now granted, this film didn’t exactly stretch his thespian skills, but they did manage to showcase more range than I typically find in these actors. If he sticks to roles like this, he has a better than average shot at being the next action star. Most people not interested in wrestling might know him best for his Kevin Federline stunt where he wrestled the kid, losing, only to slam him to the ground backstage. Of course, it was all staged, but it made the celebrity news circuit all the same. Lately he’s been trying hard to move his career into a more “respectable” area and hopes to be taken seriously as an actor. 12 Rounds is certainly not a bad start for a second film.
The cast also includes a few quite talented supporting actors. Steve Harris, best known for his portrayal of Eugene on The Practice, does a standout job here as the obsessed FBI agent. At times he’s just as much a nemesis for Cena as the bad guy is. Speaking of bad guys, Aidan Gillen is wonderfully wicked as Miles Jackson. Without leaning on the usual over the top performance, he brings this villain to a much more realistic, and ultimately far scarier, nemesis than these films usually sport. I’d like to see him as a Bond baddie. Finally, Ashley Scott is completely underused here. When she does get to shine, it’s in a ludicrous helicopter scene which completely kills the buzz you got from watching the first 3/4 of the movie. It’s not her fault, but it takes us completely out of that “don’t insult my intelligence” frame of mind I talked about earlier. I would have liked to see more of this budding actress. She mostly been a television actress to this point, scoring a film here and there, most notably Deep Blue Sea, but I suspect things might heat up in the very near future. I know all those die hard Jericho fans out there will agree.
12 Rounds is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.39:1, but let’s call it a 2.40:1. It’s arrived at through a nice AVC/MPEG-4 codec. The picture is pretty sharp and you’ll get a lot of detail. Colors don’t exactly scream at you, but they maintain a rather refreshing realistic look throughout. Flesh tones in particular are pretty much reference. Black levels are rock solid and provide nice shadow detail while exhibiting a rich inky black quality. There are times the film is a bit over lit, but it’s a style choice and no defect in the transfer. The print was in pristine shape.
The DTS-HD Master Audio track is also pretty solid. I was impressed with sub levels and sound placement overall. The film contains a lot of explosions and crashes, and you get a pretty dynamic rendition from all of this action. The score is a very basic adrenalin affair that peeks through at just the right moments. Even in all of this carnage you still get solid levels on the dialog side of things. It’s a pretty good presentation all around.
There are two Audio Commentaries, which are only available on the “extreme cut” of the film. The first features director Renny Harlin. He raves about the New Orleans location, a bit too trendy these days, and offers up some insight into his stylistic approach. The second track features writer Daniel Kunkle and John Cena. There’s less information here, but they do offer up some amusing anecdotes from the set.
First off, you get an unrated “extreme” cut and the theatrical cut of the film. For all of the “extreme” language here, that cut is only just under 2 minutes longer. It’s not going to set the world on fire.
All of the following features are in HD.
Streetcar Crossing: (16:27) This feature covers every aspect of the runaway rail car on location at Canal Street in New Orleans.
A Crash Course – John Cena Stunts: (9:51) This is one of those features that not only focuses on the stunts but offers the star in that “tough guy doing it all” light.
Never Before Cena Gag Reel: (4:50) Not your typical gag reel. This one features some interview clips along with the mistakes and missteps.
Keeping Score – The Music Of 12 Rounds: (3:16) The score was a mix of orchestra and keyboard. You get to see some of the orchestra recording sessions.
Round And Round With Renny and John Cena: (4:05) The two ask each other questions from the set of the movie.
Bonus Rounds: (20:22) This is more the typical making of feature split into 12 sections. Get it? 12?
Alternate Endings: (1:58) There are 2 endings that aren’t that much different from the finished product. They both involve Cena and Scott as they walk out of the hospital together.
Viral Videos: (3:41) I’m not sure how to describe these two small clips. They appear to be somewhat of a mockumentary on two aspects of the film. They look like they might have been webisodes or some such nonsense.
In the end I liked the ride I got here. It’s a thrill ride and nothing more. Don’t try to over examine it or think too much about the whys, the whos, and the wheres. It did rather poorly at the box office, pulling in an abysmal, but somewhat ironic, $12 million. Whatever success Cena might have in or out of the ring, I think this is a pretty good film overall. His first film, Marines, was a split decision. “This time we won’t be going to the judge’s scorecards.”