A film review by Craig J. Koban
2009, PG-13, 105 mins.
2009, PG-13, 105 mins.
John Cena: Danny Fisher / Ashley Scott: Molly Porter / Aidan Gillen: Miles Jackson / Steve Harris: Special Agent George Aiken
Directed by Renny Harlin / Written by Daniel Kunka
are twelve observations about the new action thriller, 12
John Cena desperately needs to stick to his day job.
Felix Anthony Cena’s Wikipedia page list his credentials as an American
“professional wrestler, rap artist, and film actor.”
To be fair, he certainly has got one of the those nailed
down pat. I have only
listened to a small and merciless sample of his hip hop music to easily
declare it as an artistic write-off for him, but his acting career
should have also ended with the miserable action thriller that was
2006’s THE MARINE.
As on display in that film – and, to much the same extent, in 12
ROUNDS – Cena most definitely has the physical prowess to give audiences
the impression of a pedal-to-the-metal action star, but on a level of emotional
charisma, he has the personality of a battered ring turnbuckle.
To be fair, Cena does just
about everything that is expected of him in 12 ROUNDS, which is to
basically run around like an indestructible, Herculean freight train of a
man that is virtually impervious to stabbings, gun fire, multiple
explosions, and falling from vast distances.
What is is not impervious to, alas, are bad line readings. On a basic performance
level, Cena is depressingly comatose.
Compared to other former wrestlers that have made a modestly
successful segue into movies (like Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson), there
is not one scintilla of charm or easy-going likeability to Cena.
His enunciation of individual lines is cringe worthy, not to
mention that he carries about him an aura of a man that simply does not
know how to act from one scene to the next.
Considering the film’s story – which asks him to look
progressively more distressed and anxious as the film progresses – he maintains an annoying one note level of tough guy stoicism…which makes
it certainly hard for me to give a damn about his character.
You gain the impression of an “actor” that outwardly appears
more befuddled and confused with the prospect of memorizing his few scent
lines than appearing to have a grasp on his character in any meaningful
On a level of
laughably inert and cringe worthy dramatic range, Cena makes Steven Segal
look like Lawrence Olivier. Perhaps
he has the potential playing small bit parts as hulking, brute antagonists in films,
but he simply has too much brawn and not enough thespian chops to fully
capitalize as an action hero to fully carry a film.
This film is a career killer for director Renny Harlin.
a fork in it, Renny, because 12 ROUNDS considers your career very much done.
the hell happened to him?
one point in the early 1990’s he looked poised to becoming one of the
most sought after and dependable action film directors working in
Hollywood (early films, like the first great DIE HARD sequel, DIE HARDER,
and the terrifically executed Sylvester Stallone vehicle, CLIFFHANGER,
displayed his knack for testosterone induced mayhem and carnage).
His career took a notable nosedive with failed vanity projects like
CUTTHROAT ISLAND, THE LONG KISS GOODNIGHT, and the laughably silly race
car flick, DRIVEN. By the
time he was hired on as a cheap and disposable replacement for the trouble
EXORCIST: THE BEGINNING in 2004, you just sort of knew that Harlin’s
clout was beginning to see better days.
inevitably takes me to my next observation….
If you enter a cinema, sit down, and see that the first logo that appears
before the film reads, “WWE Studios”….immediately flee the theatre.
I am not sure what is more depressing: The notion that a once promising action director fell from grace so quickly into B-grade level obscurity, or the fact that he has embarrassingly reduced himself to making a shamelessly awful action project headed up by WWE’s film division?
rule of career resurrection for any director: don’t have your name
appear on the billboard credits alongside those of a professional
wrestling organization that has no business making films in the first
again…I guess if you are a fan of Cena and the WWE, then 12 ROUNDS
offers up a relative plateful of the best ingredients of its wrestling
show: steroid induced superman flashy off their impossibly huge biceps,
a lot of soullessly choreographed and mindless action, equally
brainless female characters that border on pure, sexist window dressing, and
plotlines that could not tread water even in the shallow end of a pool.
Hollywood action films desperately need to put a permanent moratorium on
the “shaky cam”…once and for all.
it “queesy cam”…call it “shaky cam”…whatever…but this has
got to be one of the most glaringly annoying habits of both novice and
veteran filmmakers as of late. Enough already!
12 ROUNDS has to be one of the
most horribly over directed and hyperactively edited action
films I have seen in many a moon. Harlin’s
camera simple does not sit still for one single damn minute during the
film...not even for what would appear to be the quieter and more
introspective dialogue moments between characters.
I have seen many an action film that has contained cruelly agitated
camera work and cinematography, but 12 ROUNDS is another kind of
amateurish, stomach churning hatchet job altogether.
The way Harlin hyperactively zooms in and out of what could have
been modest setups is eye fatiguing to the max, but just look at the
horrendous results that come out of him using his frenetically zoom-laden
camera during closed-in action sequences (like the final climatic one),
where the fight scene takes place within a very tight and confined area
and the shots go by with such blistering, haphazard speed that it becomes
next to impossible to make sense out of anything.
One conclusion could be made
out of this inexcusable stylistic excess: Harlin hoped that filming 12
ROUNDS like this would generate a sense of deep immersion within the
viewers, but all it serves up is pure exhaustion.
Not only that, but it’s a cheap parlor trick too: it falsely
conveys a sense of intensity to the proceedings, but the film could have
been that much more thrilling and provocative with a more intuitively
For the love of God: non-stop
and continuous camera movement does not create a sensation of
unadulterated energy and exhilaration: all it creates is migraines.
Ashley Scott has the dubious credit of appearing in two lackluster action
films that have starred two professional wrestlers.
appeared in 2004’s WALKING TALL
with The Rock and now she appears opposite of John Cena.
Now, Scott is an infectiously gorgeous and spunky presence (she was
very solid in the terribly short-lived series JERICHO), but in WALKING
TALL and 12 ROUNDS she is uniformly saddled with the most painfully
rudimentary of all female film parts: the kidnapped, gagged, and helpless
girlfriend/ fiancé/ wife whose only purpose in the film is to facilitate
the male hero’s revenge motivation against the killer.
An appealing presence like Scott most assuredly deserves better.
While watching 12 ROUNDS I spent more time trying to read the text
messages of the person sitting in front of me in the theatre than I did
actively engaging the film's story.
plot is a real, eye-rolling howler. Detective
Danny Fisher (Cena) manages to locate one of the world’s most
untraceable and dangerous terrorist minds, Mile Jackson (Aidan Gillen),
but in the process of initially capturing Fisher he inadvertently kills
the terrorist’s girlfriend. Big
mistake. Flash forward a year and the terrorist has escaped from
prison and has now kidnapped Fischer’s girlfriend (Scott) and now forces
Fisher to play a 12 round game of cat 'n mouse that, if Fisher wins, will
result in his girlfriend’s safe return.
check time. Why this madmen would simply not just blow up Fisher and
his girlfriend to kingdom come while in their home is beyond me, but the
film goes to incredulous and ridiculous levels to show how far the
terrorist goes to in order to enact his revenge.
He clearly has watched THE
DA VINCI CODE too many times. Jackson meticulously
places clues all throughout New Orleans that (a) no possible human being
hell bent on revenge would ever plot and (b) no human being chasing
the villain that planted them would be able to follow.
The longer the film progresses the more moronic and inane each
round becomes…which becomes so unintentionally hilarious that it almost
emerges a self-parody of revenge/action films - think
SAW crossed with SPEED, minus the gore, inspired action sequences, and
passably agreeable characters. Few
films flirt with imbecilic implausibility as much as 12 ROUNDS does: it
grabs absurdity in a big bear hug and bursts it at the seams.
Action films are only as good as their main villains.
Gillen is a fine actor, but he never once carves a niche for himself in 12
ROUNDS as an even modestly intriguing and scary villain.
There is never once a scene where he comes across as a memorably
imposing and ruthlessly conveying villain in the classic DIE HARD-ian mould
(which the film pathetically is aiming for at times).
The sheer groan-inducing dialogue he is forced to repeatedly spew,
not to mention the head-shaking insanity of the underlining plot,
certainly does not assist his performance.
By the time Cena has his way with him in the end you don't get a
sense of cathartic satisfaction…you more or less feel completely
relieved that the film will be over soon to allow you to get on with your
Setting this film in New Orleans is somewhat offensive in itself.
part bothered me more than I thought.
Seeing New Orleans used here – especially after being devastated
by Hurricane Katrina just a few short years ago – as a backdrop where
the action hero needlessly and carelessly destroys and ravages his way
through it shows a dreadful lack of thoughtfulness and insight from the
makers. This only heightens
the desperation of the makers in general to see this sort of numbingly
routine and depressingly sterile action film see the light of day.
I dunno…but to see Cena and company lay various parts of the city
to waste – all in an effort to save his hot babe of a girlfriend –
just left a bad taste in my mouth. Physically sacrificing a city
that recently saw too much tragedy for one lifetime for the sake of a
cookie-cutter action flick without a brain in its head seems unpleasantly
As a total abomination of narrative common sense and intelligence, not to
mention filmmaking skill, 12 ROUNDS is not even entertainingly or
As a total abomination of narrative common sense and intelligence, not to mention filmmaking skill, 12 ROUNDS is not even entertainingly or amusingly bad.
Some bad films celebrate their awfulness like a badge of honor. Regrettably, 12 ROUNDS does not even make a half-hearted attempt to be moderately fun, even in the midst of all of a startling lack of innovation and its inescapably wrongheaded direction and acting. One thing is for certain: decades from now, 12 ROUNDS will hold a very esteemed place on a list of action films that are totally bankrupt of originality and style.
Studios should cease operation altogether.
should pay off John Cena and force him to put WWE chairman Vince McMahon
into a brain hemorrhaging head lock in order to coerce him to never make a
wrestler-helmed action film…and I mean, like, ever again.
Defending this mercilessly awful film is…well…borderline indefensible.
ROUNDS is 105 minutes long. That,
in my estimation, is 105 minutes too long.
Perhaps it takes a special sort of sly and open-minded
individual to appreciate this film. Alas, I am not one of
I should have never seen this film.
And neither should you. Trust me: 12 ROUNDS is horrendous in more than twelve ways,