It’s safe to say that I went into 12 Rounds with low expectations.
The movie was produced by WWE Studios, which has already been responsible for three horrible films, See No Evil, The Marine and The Condemned. There was no reason to think that things would be better this time around, especially since this film starred John Cena, who had already been at the helm of The Marine, a film so bad that even Robert Patrick (of Terminator 2 fame) couldn’t save it.
However, I am happy to report I was pleasantly surprised by this film. While I freely admit I was grading this film on a curve, I am happy to say that 12 Rounds is a solidly entertaining action movie. Is it a perfect film? Far from it. But if you are looking for an action fix, then I definitely recommend popping this movie into your Blu-ray player.
12 Rounds is the story of Det. Danny Fisher (John Cena), a good cop who inadvertently ends up on the wrong side of Miles Jackson (Aidan Gillen), an international terrorist wanted by the FBI.
Fisher and his partner, Det. Hank Carver (Brian J. White), are asked to help the FBI bring Jackson in. While Fisher is chasing down Jackson, Jackson’s girlfriend (who was driving the getaway car) is accidentally killed and the terrorist blames the officer for her death. As Jackson is hauled off to jail, he vows revenge on Fisher.
A year later, Jackson escapes from prison and immediately makes good on his promise. He kidnaps Fisher’s girlfriend, Molly Porter (Ashley Scott) and then tells the officer that he will kill her unless Fisher can overcome a series of challenges that Jackson, who is clearly a boxing enthusiast, dubs “12 Rounds.” Fisher must then rush through the streets of New Orleans completing these rounds before running out of time. Meanwhile, the FBI and Fisher’s witty African American partner, Carver, are trying to track down Jackson and bring him to justice.
If the plot sounds a bit familiar to you, it’s because it’s fairly close to the plot of Die Hard: With A Vengeance. Die Hard: With A Vengeance also told the story of an evil villain who forced a heroic cop to perform a series of challenges. That cop, John McClane, was also helped by the FBI and by a witty African American character, Zeus Carver (a role made memorable by the always-enjoyable Samuel L. Jackson). With A Vengeance is set in New York instead of New Orleans, the villain is a fan of children’s games instead of boxing and he is avenging the death of his brother instead of his girlfriend, but other than that, the setup of the two films is nearly identical.
Unfortunately, the unoriginal premise isn’t the only problem with the film. For one thing, the dialogue is often painfully bad. Most of writer Daniel Kunka’s attempts at witty banter and humorous one-liners fall flat and the dramatic lines usually aren’t any better. Characters actually say lines like “Don’t be a hero, Ray, it’s not in your pay grade.” Also, Jackson isn’t a very memorable adversary and he is presented as an almost cartoonish villain with no real depth. It’s unfortunate because Aidan Gillen did a terrific job playing Tommy Carcetti in The Wire, so I know he is capable of doing great things in front of a camera, but he really isn’t given much to work with in this role.
Luckily, in spite of these setbacks, the film moves along at such a fast pace that you don’t have time to dwell on its flaws. Even with the unoriginal premise, Kunka and director Renny Harlin (who, interestingly enough, directed Die Hard 2) find a way to set this movie apart from the Die Hard franchise. The film has a gritty, urban feel to it and is shot almost like a documentary. All of the action scenes are very well done, including a highly-entertaining sequence featuring a runaway street car and a climactic fight on a moving helicopter.
Shooting 12 Rounds in New Orleans adds a lot to the film visually. Harlan makes the most of the street scenes and all of the exterior shots really shine in Blu-ray (especially the car chases and explosions). The film’s climax is also surprisingly clever, which increased my enjoyment of the film substantially.
Cena brings an intensity to the role of Fisher and actually makes a fairly convincing action star. He did most of his own stunts in this film, which is also a nice touch. His acting struggles a bit during the quieter, more subtle emotional scenes, but luckily those scenes are few and far between in this action-packed film. He still has a long way to go before he gets anywhere close to The Rock’s level of mainstream success, but if Cena ever wants a career outside of the ring, this film is a step in the right direction.
While 12 Rounds comes with a lot of quality special features, unfortunately the packaging of the film is a bit misleading. This release is being dubbed as an “Extreme Cut,” however the unrated version really doesn’t seem much different from the theatrical version of the film. Also, the packaging boasts that the DVD/Blu-ray includes two alternate endings, but the “alternate endings” are basically the same ending with two alternate one-liners thrown out by Cena right before the closing credits begin to roll. The lines are a letdown to begin with, but misleading viewers (with deceptive copy) only adds to the disappointment.
The sad thing is that there is no need to overhype the alternate endings and the unrated version of the film because 12 Rounds actually has some really strong bonus content. I highly recommend watching the “Streetcar Crossing: Film with Caution” featurette, which chronicles the seven days spent shooting the film’s memorable runaway streetcar scene, and “A Crash Course: John Cena Stunts,” which shows how Cena prepared for all of his stunts in the film. The “Crash Course” piece is also enjoyable because it reveals that Cena has a fear of heights, which was a problem since he was dropped out of a 10-story window for one of the scenes in the film.
If you are looking to dig a bit deeper into the making of the film, there is also a “Bonus Rounds” feature, which gives you a series of two-minute vignettes about different aspects of the film. The most enjoyable one is titled “Dog-gone Good Actor,” which is a fun look at George, the pug who played Fisher’s dog Shorty, who the cop dubs “the world’s most dominant pug.” The “Extreme Cut” also has two different commentary tracks, a gag reel and a digital copy of the film.
Overall, I recommend checking out 12 Rounds if you’re a fan of action films. While it is far from perfect, it is a solid movie with a quick pace and enough action to overcome its flaws. I’d recommend renting the movie before you buy it to make sure you like it. If you end up enjoying the film, then the quality bonus content makes it worth the asking price.
Written by Joel Murphy. 12 Rounds: Extreme Cut is available now on Blu-ray and DVD.
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