12 Rounds – Review

Proof that there’s a Die Hard for Dummies book out there

Image Courtesy of IMPawards.com

Director: Renny Harlin
Notable Cast:
John Cena, Ashley Scott, Aiden Gillen, Steve Harris

Renny Harlin has had a unique career as a director. He crafted one of the better action movies sequels to find its way to the silver screen with Die Hard 2, the massive Sylvester Stallone hit Cliffhanger, the Geena Davis helmed action thriller The Long Kiss Goodnight and cult classic The Adventures of Ford Fairlane. Outside of that it’s been a collection of bad to awful films for the most part, with Mindhunters being the sole standout film of the current decade on Harlin’s resume. And while 12 Rounds isn’t anywhere near any of these films in terms of quality, it’s not completely rancid. It just pulls out enough references to the Die Hard series, as well as Speed, to cross the line from first rate thriller to second rate action film pretending to be something better.

12 Rounds is as standard action thriller as it gets. Danny Fisher (John Cena) is a New Orleans Police Department detective who manages to catch an international arms dealer (Aiden Gillen) while simultaneously killing the man’s girlfriend. When the dealer escapes a year later, he seemingly has one goal. Punish Fisher by kidnapping his girlfriend (Ashley Scott), then devising a series of games for him to complete while dangling Fisher’s life as collateral.

And on the surface the film has a great premise. Put a generic everyman (Cena) in extraordinary situations with a master puppet master who minored in engineering pulling the strings, blow lots of stuff up and throw in a curveball of an ending and you could wind up with a great flick. The key phrase is “could” because the film is completely derivative of Speed and Die Hard with a Vengeance. Except without the quality characters, which torpedoes the film out of the gate for the most part.

That’s a major problem with the film, as there’s no real reason to care about Danny Fisher except for the perfunctory kidnapping. There’s no setup and no development; it’s more of a presentation of a man being a hero as opposed to a man doing what no one else will. That’s the undercurrent of any good action film; every good action hero is someone who isn’t a superman, he’s the guy to do the job when no else can (or will). Fisher is that guy, but there’s no reason to care about him outside of his girlfriend being kidnapped.

John Cena certainly looks the part but isn’t charismatic enough, or good enough of an actor, to carry the film. He’s credible in the role, as he has all the physical tools and presence to be believable in the part, but he isn’t given anything to work with and he’s not seasoned enough to add little touches to the character that a more seasoned action star would. Aiden Gillen is given a rather thankless job as Cena’s foil, and just apes Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman in Die Hard) relentlessly to bring some needed spice to the film.

It’s disappointing, especially considering the first 20 minutes of the film is top notch work. Harlin starts the film with a flourish, opening up with a relentless and spectacular chase sequence that starts out with advanced surveillance techniques. It’s such an elevation, giving us an introduction to all the principles while at the same time giving us the film’s high point. From there it’s nothing but explosions and noise, which is a shame because this could’ve been a first rate thriller and settles for being another action film clone.


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