When New Orleans Police Detective Danny Fisher (John Cena) stops a brilliant thief from getting away with a multimillion-dollar heist, the thief's girlfriend is accidentally killed. After escaping from prison, the criminal mastermind enacts his revenge, taunting Danny with 12 rounds of near-impossible puzzles and tasks that he must somehow complete to save the life of the woman he loves.
Cruel as it may sound, Renny Harlin may always be regarded as a poor cousin to Michael Bay and Tony Scott. Despite having done more than respectable action movies like “Die Hard 2”, “Cliffhanger”, “The Long Kiss Goodnight” and even the much underrated “Mindhunters”, Harlin has never been considered in the same league as Bay or Scott. But watch his latest “12 Rounds” and it’s immediately clear that when it comes to mayhem and destruction, Harlin is just as adept at blowing stuff up.
Shot in post-Katrina’s New Orleans, Harlin makes the best use of his location (and his budget) to stage some genuinely thrilling action sequences. There’s a race-against-time drive through the narrow streets of New Orleans on a fire truck, another race against time to stop a careening streetcar and a final climatic midair helicopter fight above the city’s night sky. And in between, a whole stretch of streetwalk cafes gets smashed up, an innumerable number of parked or moving vehicles get crashed into, a couple of buildings get blown up and an entire power grid gets taken out.
Whew- by the time “12 Rounds” is done, you’d think New Orleans just went through Katrina Round Two. And all that destruction is for a good purpose apparently- a certain Detective Danny Fisher (John Cena) has to rescue his kidnapped girlfriend (Ashley Scott) from the hands of a megalomaniac terrorist Miles Jackson (Aiden Gillen) so he plays said terrorist’s 12 challenges, or “12 Rounds”, as the movie is titled.
Whatever. Like any of Bay or Scott’s films, this throwaway plot is simply an excuse to get from one ridiculous and ridiculously exciting action set piece to another- despite writer Daniel Kunka’s best efforts at convincing you otherwise. Yes, “12 Rounds” is almost predictable to a fault and you’d probably already have figured out its twist ending by the time that rolls around. Nevertheless, it’s unlikely action junkies will mind- Harlin’s flair for action and devastation is what propels “12 Rounds” and this is right up there with “Die Hard 2”.
But what “12 Rounds” lacks is a likeable and memorable hero a la John McClane. “12 Rounds’” Detective Danny Fisher doesn’t have the signature personality or attitude that made McClane the hero you rooted for. Indeed, right until the very last round, Fisher finds himself consistently being outsmarted by Miles- how’s that for a smart hero? Of course, part of the fault also lies with Harlin’s frenetic direction- in choosing to keep the action fast and furious, he’s relegated his hero to a mere cardboard figure.
The same can also be said of John Cena. Unlike his fellow WWE superstar Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Cena doesn’t have the charisma or the acting chops to take on a leading role. Indeed, Cena is hardly as expressive as Johnson- in fact, he more often looks and acts like a block of wood onscreen. His only saving grace, however, is his athletic ability and thankfully it shows up amply in the movie.
“12 Rounds” is also a movie quite unfortunately behind its time. Had it been made in the ‘90s, it surely would have found more love with an audience that was simpler and easier to please. But coming after countless other such movies like “Point Break”, “Speed” and even “Die Hard with a Vengeance”, “12 Rounds” is hardly likely to change the fortunes of Renny Harlin’s flagging career. He’s made a solid action movie- pity the timing and the acting.
SPECIAL FEATURES :
Commentary by Writer Daniel Kunka and Actor John Cena: Kunka is the more loquacious one here and it’s nice to hear him express some real enthusiasm about the material, especially with regards to some of the changes that Harlin made to his script. Cena, on the other hand, sounds just as wooden as he looks onscreen- a good fit apparently.
Alternate Endings with Commentary: It’s much ado about nothing really since the alternate endings happen after the big finale so the story is pretty much the same no matter how they try to spin it.
A Crash Course: A look at the stunt prep John Cena had to go through before the movie. Pretty amazing for how Cena is actually a very good stunt driver himself and his agoraphobia which he had to overcome to film this movie.
Never Before Cena Gag Reel: It’s nice to know the cast and crew at least had some fun in between shooting this intense action movie.
The visual transfer on this Code 3 DVD is excellent and in digital actually makes it easier than watching it on film to make out what’s happening on screen amidst all that frantic camera movement. The Dolby 5.1 audio is also a real treat and you’re best advised to make peace with your neighbours after all that booming and banging.
by Gabriel Chong
Posted on 3 October 2009