Renny Harlin, who hasn't had a hit since he divorced Geena Davis, was the right guy to lift World Wrestling Entertainment's infant film division to something closer to legitimacy. If anybody could shoot and cut an action film to hide wrassler John Cena's lack of Actors Studio training, it's the director who made Stallone look like a mountain climber in Cliffhanger and Willis look like he was really worried those planes were going to crash in Die Hard 2.
In 12 Rounds, Cena isn't the stiff he was in The Marine, in which he played a guy who gets after some villains who snatch his girlfriend. In 12 Rounds, Cena is positively Matt Damonish in playing a cop who battles an Irish terrorist who snatches his girlfriend. He's Matt Damon with muscles, or at least a guy who looks like Matt Damon (literally) on steroids, struggling to stop a speeding streetcar, to defuse a bomb, exit a falling elevator or get out of speeding cars, fire trucks or helicopters. He still can't emote worth a lick or even manage a cocked eyebrow, which wrestler Dwayne Johnson rode to film fame. But it doesn't matter as much this time.
Harlin, the Finnish action specialist, keeps his hero in motion -- from the opening foot chase through a darkened 9TH Ward of New Orleans (where most houses are empty or boarded up) all the way to the "Can you believe this $@%#?" finale.
Cena plays Danny, a beat cop who runs down a terrorist the FBI has lost, and is promoted to detective for it. A year later, the bad guy escapes from a Florida prison and traps Danny in a "12 round" re-match with the one fellow who bested him.
"It's our anniversary," Miles Jackson (Aidan Gillen) purrs in an authentic Irish accent. "This is a game. Y' like games, Danny?"
Aye, lad, we all do. Except for Danny. But since, once again, Cena's playing a guy who has lost his girlfriend (Ashley Scott) to the bad guy, Danny must play along.
He is sent hurtling through New Orleans, wrecking stuff, saving (or not saving) innocent bystanders, trying to stop a streetcar not named Desire.
Very Die Hard 3, in other words. Except that in this movie, while the WWE was willing to spring for lots of cars to wreck, it didn't blow a dime on casting a decent villain. Why not get a "heel" (a villain wrestler) to do the dirty work? At least he'd be scary. I kept expecting this Gillen fellow to blurt out, 'Aaaaaaallways after me Lucky Charms!'. "
There's a prickly and not-helpful F.B.I. agent ( Steve Harris) in the way, a partner (Brian J. White) who says "Have I ever let you down?" just after letting Danny down, and a lot of cell-phone threats, clues, tearful pleas and frantic calls for "back up."
Noisy, cut into a head-snapping blur with little room for humor, or Cena to even try showing some emotion, 12 Rounds is an occasionally exciting but always empty action movie experience.
But there's news in this latest upgrade of the WWE movie brand, and it comes from behind the camera. The Finn isn't finished after all.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun