In my youth, I remember seeing lines that stretched all the way around the Maui Theater in Kahului (which no longer exists) for the latest Steven Seagal or Jean-Claude Van Damme bone-crushing, head-bashing extravaganza. It didn’t matter that most of these movies were dumb and featured even dumber acting. There was nothing cooler than watching Seagal take down a bad guy with his bare hands, or seeing “The Muscles from Brussels” roundhouse kick some terrorist in the face.
I felt a similar thrill a few years ago when I saw WWE wrestler John Cena in his debut film, The Marine, a stupid but epically over-the-top movie that has become something of a cult classic. After the first few minutes of 12 Rounds, Cena’s second film, I felt worried—the filmmaking was sharper and the movie seemed too generic and not outrageous enough. Until we arrived at the part where Cena uses a boat to stop a bad guy in a getaway car, and I heaved a sigh of relief.
The plot rips off Speed to an amazing degree, with whole scenes from that Keanu-on-the-bus classic recycled in their entirety. There are also steals from Last Action Hero, Die Hard and Terminator 3, to name a few. Director Renny Harlin established himself as one of the best action filmmakers in the ‘90s with The Long Kiss Goodnight, Cliffhanger and Die Hard 2. However, he hasn’t made a great action movie in 10 years and isn’t working at the top of his game, though he can still stage serviceable explosions and car chases.
Cena, who resembles Mark Wahlberg crossed with a Doberman Pinscher and a Greyhound bus, isn’t a terrible actor. The movie could’ve been much better had they pitted him against a great villain. Unfortunately, Aiden Gillen, playing a terrorist with a personal vendetta, is a snoozer. Everyone onscreen talks about how evil this guy is, but the only truly rotten thing he does that I found unforgivable is eat a vanilla ice cream cone, then throw it away without finishing it.
You may not want to pay full price for this one, but really, movies this gleefully stupid and unoriginal are rarely this much fun. 12 Rounds may be indefensible and play best on either an airplane or afternoon cable, but darnit, I had a big grin on my face almost the entire time. There are few things in life funnier than watching Cena running after a villain, particularly when he’s chasing a car, nostrils flaring and arms pumping like he’s about to take flight.
Had the filmmakers cast someone who could gnaw at the scenery in the bad guy role and lowered the script’s IQ by two points, this could’ve been something special—like The Marine 2! MTW