When a guy like me sees the words “WWE Studios” and “From the director of Die Hard 2” on a poster, it might as well say “Free tickets to Blowjob Island” because there is no force on God’s green earth that will keep me away.
You may remember Die Hard 2 director Renny Harlin as the crazy Finn who dangled a dude in between two jet planes in Cliffhanger and fed Sam Jackson to a CGI shark in Deep Blue Sea. He’s been around since the eighties, having survived Freddy Krueger, Andrew Dice Clay, and marriage to Geena Davis. His specialty is big, loud movies that straddle that fine line between “knowingly preposterous” and “legitimately retarded.” This is best exemplified in the future cult classic Mindhunters, a movie that is either jaw-droppingly stupid or utterly brilliant, depending on who you ask. And you know what? I don’t really want to know if Renny is in on the joke or not. Whether he’s celebrating/skewering the clichés of action cinema on purpose or by accident, I’m a major Renny Harlin fan, even if he doesn’t hit it out of the park every time. Driven was boring, The Covenant wasn’t as outlandish as a movie where Banana Republic warlocks call each other “wee-otches” should be, and as far as I know, Cutthroat Island is still the biggest money-loser in Hollywood history. But as long as people keep giving him millions of dollars to continue his lifelong quest to blow up every manner of structure and vehicle ever invented, I will be there to support him.
Renny’s benefactor on 12 Rounds is WWE Studios, the prestigious motion picture production company known for starting with the premise of “big muscley guy hits people” and then leaving well enough alone. 12 Rounds isn’t as retarded as The Marine, also starring the bubbly biceps of three-time world champion wrestler/wigger stereotype John Cena, but it’s a better all-around film. It’s sort of like Saw as a PG-13 action movie, in that it’s about one of those psychotic übergeniuses that like to play sadistic games with law enforcement officials. In this case, we got an Irish arms merchant who wants to get revenge on Detective Cena for accidentally causing the death of his ladyfriend. So he kidnaps Cena’s anorexic blond girlfriend (Walking Tall’s Ashley Scott, in her second role as “designated hostage” in a movie starring an ex-wrestler) and makes Cena run around town performing little tasks that involve jumping onto runaway trolley cars and escaping from falling elevators. It’s sort of like eight or nine imaginary Speed sequels crammed into one movie.
This is not the greatest movie ever made (I apologize if I gave you that impression), but it gets the job done. It certainly could have been wackier, but it maintains an enjoyably lightweight tone, even when everybody from Cena’s best friend to his plumber keep getting killed. Stuff blows up real nice, and the pace never flags. It never devolves into pointless comedy like The Marine, and you can actually tell what the fuck is going on most of the time, unlike Stone Cold Steve Austin’s The Condemned. True, someone must have shown Renny a Bourne movie at some point, because he forgoes his usual elegant, confident camerawork in favor of some mild shaky-cam, though thankfully not while the expensive shit is happening. (Note to parents: If your child expresses a desire to be a film director when he grows up, you must at all costs keep him from ever seeing any of the works of Paul Greengrass. He will immediately throw out that tripod you bought him for Christmas and start attempting cinematography that looks like the camera was strapped to the back of a bumblebee.) Aside from that, the flick is very old school. There seems to be very little CGI. This is a straight-up stunts movie, with maybe a little greenscreen compositing thrown in. If The Marine was looking to bring back the eighties (and failing), then 12 Rounds is looking to bring back the mid-nineties (and succeeding).
As for this John Cena guy, I’m kind of on the fence. On the one hand, we haven’t had an action star who looked this much like an action star in a long time. There’s nothing offbeat or gritty about him. He’s just Joe All-America, only lumpier. He’s like a bowl of Wheaties with human growth hormone sprinkled on top. While I appreciate that in theory, in practice this guy is nine kinds of bland. He has no attitude, so he’s a completely reactive hero. Shit happens and he just deals with it. He’s like a video game character. Where Bruce Willis would give you a look that tells you how he’s feeling about having to throw a boat at an escaping felon (long story), Cena just kind of does it. You never doubt that he could beat a motherfucker’s ass, but he lacks that human touch that would put him in Jason Statham territory.
Also, Cena seems to have a thing for characters who know how to kick ass but are clueless at domestic life. In The Marine, he played a dude who got booted from military service for being too badass, so the whole first act is about him being unable to adjust to civilian life. 12 Rounds is similar because he's a dedicated cop but his girlfriend says she can't trust him around the house because he isn't helping out with the chores. But the funny part is that the plots of both movies utterly fail to illustrate these themes in any way. The Marine makes it seem like Cena's wife will have to get kidnapped every single day in order for him to have something to do with his time, while 12 Rounds has Cena asking his girlfriend if she "trusts" him (Screenwriting Cliché #12: Have a character repeat another character's line of dialogue from earlier in the movie in a different context) right before jumping out of a helicopter with her. Dude, you're missing the point. She always trusted you when it comes to throwing yourself off of moving vehicles. She just didn't trust you to fix the leaky valve under the sink. And you know what? She probably still doesn't, because the script has given her no reason to. Sure, she knows you'll be there for her whenever she gets taken hostage by terrorists, but will you remember to take out the trash? The jury's still out on that one.
Anyway, I want to welcome my man Renny back to action films after wallowing in horror-thrillers for several years. He definitely hasn’t lost his touch. Maybe now they’ll finally let him make Werewolves on the Moon, which got stuck in development hell a few years back. Think of the potential awesomeness of that. I mean, if you were stuck on the moon with some werewolves, you’d be totally fucked, because it’s always a full moon on the moon.