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I’ve been complaining for weeks that we seem to be out of good, pure action stars. Other than Jason Statham, most action oriented movie stars keep trying to develop their careers in other areas, either integrating needless drama into their movies or trying their hand at comedy. We might have a new action star contender in the works, coming from the most unlikely of places - wrestling. 12 Rounds brings John Cena back to the screen in 100% high paced action, and the result is a pure fun.
Following the puppet master plot device of movies like Speed and Die Hard with a Vengeance, 12 Rounds finds a police detective trapped in the machinations of a criminal mastermind. In the movie’s opening sequence, New Orleans Officer Danny Fisher (Cena) aids the FBI in apprehending Miles Jackson (Aiden Gillen), a criminal who has eluded the bureau for some time. Miles’s girlfriend is accidently killed during the arrest, and the villain swears he won’t forget the event or Officer Fisher. A year later, a promoted Fisher discovers Miles has escaped from prison and returned to live up to that oath. Miles captures Fisher’s girlfriend Molly (Ashley Scott) and proceeds to lead the detective through twelve rounds of a fiendish plot that puts the two battling wits, while challenging Fisher both physically and mentally.
12 Rounds knows exactly what kind of movie it is and makes no apologies about it. Instead of attempting to integrate needless exposition, the plot moves ahead at breakneck speed, playing on the archetypes of partners, cops, and pain in the ass FBI interference we know from other action movies. I kept waiting for some character to show up who was “just a few days from retirement,” and was disappointed when nobody did, because that’s the kind of movie this is.
Cena isn’t much of an actor, but because of the kind of movie this is, he doesn’t have to be. The majority of the movie requires him to look pissed and take physical punishment, both things that the actor’s wrestling career has prepared him for. I’ll forgive the few times the movie asks more of Cena, if only because his adversary in the movie is so deftly played by Gillen. Miles quickly becomes the kind of villain you love to hate, but want to see more of, enhanced greatly by Aiden’s smug delivery.
A lot of the action involves car chases and crashes, as Fisher attempts to quickly get from one location to another or stop a reckless car, trolly car, and helicopter. As a result, at one point in the movie I realized I was finally watching the perfect video game movie. With the short term missions Fisher is given, and the amount of vehicular carnage the movie unleashes, this might as well have been called Grand Theft Auto: the Movie. It’s as enjoyable to watch the plot unfold here as it is to play the game though, which is considerably higher praise than I expected to be giving this movie.
This is an action movie of the current era, which means some of the quick editing and sloppy, non-steadycam video style that is so pervasive today is present in this movie. Fortunately, director Renny Harlin is skilled enough in action to make most of the movie work in such a way that the cinematography doesn’t completely detract from the action. There is only one sequence that really bothered me with the presentation; unfortunately, that happens to be the climactic final battle. While I hated to lose a sense of context in the final fight, the rest of the movie had me riding enough of an action high that I could deal with one lost sequence when there’s so many others to enjoy, but the fact that it’s the ending makes the movie end on quite a disappointing note, not helped by the fact that it’s a pretty stupid ending for a villain who is otherwise always ahead of the game.
12 Rounds isn’t a brilliant movie. In fact, there are a couple of plot points that completely and unintentionally contradict information we’ve received before. It’s not a deep drama. In fact, you’ll have trouble believing John Cena really feels penitent for the loss of life he faces, or is all that in love with his girlfriend. What it is, is the kind of action spectacle that is fun to enjoy occasionally with an action star who isn’t likely to grow so big that he tries to transcend the genre that works best for him. Grab some popcorn, kick back, and enjoy the eleven rounds that work in what will ultimately be a movie that finds its way to many people’s guilty pleasure list.