Renny Harlin has been relatively quiet these days, but I won't be shy in stating for a fact that I had enjoyed some of his action movies in the past, with the likes of Die Hard 2 (despite all the loopholes), Cliffhanger with Stallone, Driven (also starring Sly) and The Long Kiss Goodnight even. Despite being better known for duds starting with Cutthroat Island, Mindhunters and even The Covenant which turned out to be a comedy, 12 Rounds turned out to be better than expected, also because John Cena looked the classic action hero that Hollywood so sorely misses.
No, I'm not a WWE John Cena wrestling fan, because my interest in WWE was left back when it was known as WWF, and like The Rock (now wanting to be known simply as Dwayne Johnson), Cena follows in his footsteps in making that leap to the big screen. While his first outing as The Marine was pretty much straight to DVD fare, this one was designed for the big screen with its big set action pieces befittingly challenging the big man, and having an old hand of action at the helm helped to bring out some enjoyable moments despite cliches abound.
As the trailer would already have suggested, Danny Fisher (Cena) is a beat cop who gets in the way of a heist by international arms trader Miles Jackson (Aiden Gillen who was just a mile wide of being a memorable psychopathic villain), and in his pursuit causes the latter's main squeeze to die in a traffic accident. Ridden with rage, Miles remembers his pursuer so that he can exact revenge when he breaks out of prison. Only that he harbours some diabolical plot to play with his prey, hence the kidnapping of Danny's girlfriend Molly (Ashley Scott) and the devising of 12 rounds of city-wide games with the overcoming of each round leading Danny closer to his girl.
So begins a running around New Orleans to perform the usual one-man cop stunts that calls for everything from intellect to brute force. It could easily fit into the Die Hard franchise, or Speed for that matter as one sequence in a bus would have me reminisce. In shows like these, things do get a tad convenient, and though I tried to examine just a little bit more into it, the plot still made some sense and held some water. In some moments it seemed like it's paying its own tribute to the emergency services of New Orleans post-Katrina, with the police, fire and medical departments featured prominently as occupations of choice of its characters.
12 Rounds is rip-roaring fun. As an action film, it has enough thrills and spills if you'd just park aside believability for a minute, and bask in the possibility of one man saving the world only because it got personal stakes involved, coming complete with obnoxious FBI agents who think they know the world. Sprinkled with some light touches of humour, the body count here is surprisingly low, which in some way gave a breathe of fresh air instead of subscribing to the mantra that the more gruesome or gritty, the better.
But if there are qualms, it's directed more at the technical areas, like the lapsing into the shaky cam, where I had thought to roll my eyes and exclaim that Renny should have bought a bloody tripod for his DOP. Also, the editing probably needed to rethink his quick cuts in the final action sequence in closed quarters, as well as some cheesy lines where it's not warranted (I swear if I hear one more "wrong place, wrong time" comment...)
However if you go at this with expectations set low, you might just come out with a grin at the end of it. I'll be anticipating more John Cena movies to come, and will probably go dig at his older film as well, but here's hoping that he doesn't go the way that most action stars do - easy come and easy go - that he gets some longevity at the box office, before being unceremoniously pushed aside (if it does happen, like Seagal's career) to the straight to video shelves.