I'm usually pretty open-minded when it comes to movies, but I'd be lying if I said I wasn't at least a little apprehensive about watching '12 Rounds' -- the WWE's (World Wrestling Entertainment) latest attempt to suckle on the teat of Hollywood. WWE "superstar" John Cena is once again back in the saddle, and with that knowledge alone I could actually feel the galaxy of cooties still crawling all over me from his last dreadful abomination ('The Marine').
Seriously. It kinda tickled.
But you know what? Once I climbed over that initial hurdle, '12 Rounds' wasn't half bad (man, I feel so dirty when I read that aloud). Now I'm not saying it's a great film or even a very good one for that matter, but as far as mindless action flicks go I found it pretty entertaining in a guilty pleasure sort of way, and a huge improvement over any of the schlock produced by the WWE to date.
'12 Rounds' begins with the FBI closing in on an elusive international terrorist named Miles Jackson (Aidan Gillen, 'The Wire'). Having quite the resume, including experience as an arms dealer, murderer, and intellectual genius, it's no surprise the notorious Jackson is at the very top of the agency's wanted list. The FBI has tracked the criminal mastermind to New Orleans and pulled in reinforcements from the local police department to ensure they swiftly bring the outlaw to justice. The wily Jackson catches wind of the operation, though, and with the help of his fiancée Erica (Taylor Cole) and some underlings, he manages to slip through the law's fingers yet again. That is, until Officer Danny Fisher (John Cena) finds himself in the right place at the right time and nabs the slippery crook. Not without tragedy, however, as Erica is accidentally killed in the process.
One year later, Danny has been enjoying his promotion to detective ever since his high-profile capture, as well as spending quality time with the love of his life, Molly (Ashley Scott). But on the anniversary of Erica's passing, Danny receives an unexpected phone call from Jackson who has been stewing in prison for months, plotting his revenge. Besides calling to say "hi" to his arch-nemesis super cop, Jackson informs Danny that he not only has escaped the penitentiary, but has also kidnapped Molly. If he ever wants to see her alive, ol' Danny boy must successfully overcome all twelve rounds of a twisted game devised by the madman.
No, '12 Rounds' isn't very original, as the plot is basically a clone of 'Die Hard with a Vengeance' with bits and pieces of 'Speed' and 'Saw' sprinkled in for good measure. What's commendable, though, is the fact that this time around the filmmakers have at least tried to eliminate most of the fingernails-screeching-on-a-blackboard moments we saw in that atrocity 'The Marine.' The terrible one-liners are cut to a minimum, and while there are still more farfetched situations than you can shake a stick at, now they aren't quite as blindingly irritating. Sure, they don't always succeed and there are still many problems with this film, but it's clear they're making the effort to steer things in the right direction.
The acting isn't the greatest either, but there's no arguing that Cena is charismatic and has come a long way since his 'Marine' fiasco. The man does have a couple of groan-worthy quips (like when he's searching his house high and low for his badge and Molly shows him it's on the "thingie"), but nothing nearly as vomit-inducing as what we've seen from him in the past. I also like how he did most of his own stunts, too. As for the villain, Gillen balances both intellectual and sinister qualities fairly well, and the way he runs around in a "teeheehee you'll never catch me" manner is quite amusing. The only thing that really bugged me was how he was so durable when Danny finally gets his hands on him. I highly doubt that this little guy could go toe-to-toe with a massive ox like Cena, but that's hardly his fault and more of an issue with the script.
Of course, '12 Rounds' is all about the action, and director Renny Harlin ('Die Hard 2: Die Harder'), who likely took this gig out of jealousy towards the third 'Die Hard,' definitely didn't take the cheap route. He stages some pretty decent chase sequences, car crashes, plus a few explosions, and none of it looks hokey. The story also takes place in New Orleans, so he filmed on location in the city rather than Australia or something ridiculous like some other recent productions. I'm also not big on shaky cam techniques, but it works in this film.
'12 Rounds' will surely disappoint those expecting to see the next 'Die Hard' or 'Lethal Weapon,' but you really can't set the bar so high with a movie that turns a wrestler into an action hero. If you go in expecting something more along the lines of a Van Damme or Steven Seagal flick and don't mind putting your brain on pause for awhile, then '12 Rounds' just might turn out to be an old school popcorn-munching good time.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
20th Century Fox locks and loads '12 Rounds' onto a BD-50 dual-layered Blu-ray disc tucked inside a standard blue keepcase. Both the rated (108 minutes) and extended "Extreme Cut" (110 minutes) versions of the film are included here. The U.S. release of this disc is also region-locked, and therefore will only play in Region A PlayStation 3s and standalone players.
One last note, a few reports have been coming in that '12 Rounds' doesn't function properly in certain Oppo, Pioneer, JVC, and possibly other standalone models. It sounds like Fox changed the BD-Java authoring or something which is causing a lock-up glitch. Personally, I had no issues on my Panasonic DMP-BD30K or my HP notebook, but it's still enough for a word of caution.
The last revenge flick I reviewed was Steven Seagal's 'Driven to Kill' (coincidentally also from Fox), which had a god-awful transfer that looked like it threw in the towel before the bell for the first round even rang. Fortunately, the 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 (2.35:1 aspect ratio) encode of '12 Rounds' may actually have a fair shot at delivering a technical knockout.
Colors are natural and vibrant, and the cherry red fire engines for example really pop on the screen. Flesh tones are realistic and nicely rendered, too. Fine detailing is impressive in the backgrounds as well as facial features, although the image doesn't quite give off that three-dimensionality vibe like some other recent releases. Black levels are consistently solid for the most part, with only a couple of instances in night shots (particularly the chase down the alleys at the beginning and a few scenes inside vehicles later on in the movie) where they aren't as deep and inky as they are in the rest of the picture. A thin veil of grain is present, adding some grittiness, and I didn't notice any digital noise. I also didn't witness any standout flaws or eyesores, but they could have been camouflaged by the shaky commando-style cinematography. Overall, '12 Rounds' gives a solid one-two punch in the visual department.
Where '12 Rounds' really shines, though, is the audio--and the aggressive lossless English DTS-HD master Audio 5.1 mix simply rocks.
While this is a very loud track, it's surprisingly airy and although dialogue plays second fiddle to the intense stunts in the film, it's never encumbered by the concussion of explosions or vehicular mash-ups. The bass receives a very healthy workout in these cases and even contributes pleasing rumbles on occasion in composer Trevor Rabin's score. The rear speakers aren't shy either. In an early ambush gunfight, the entire soundstage springs to life during the chaotic gunfire, with bullets ricocheting behind the viewer and glass windows shattering with a clear crispness. The softer general chatter encompassing the police station is also very realistic. This soundtrack has absolutely no trouble keeping up with the nonstop action in the film.
The disc is also equipped with additional Dolby digital 5.1 tracks in French, Spanish, and Portuguese, as well as optional subtitles in English (for the hearing impaired), Spanish, Portuguese, Cantonese, Korean, and Mandarin.
The first helping of bonus features are the same ones found on the DVD. As an added bonus, Fox presents everything in high-definition.
John Cena has held multiple titles during his time in the WWE, and now he can brag about being in both the worst and best movies produced so far by WWE Films. The Blu-ray of '12 Rounds' impresses with solid video, excellent audio, and a plethora of well-made and interesting supplements. For the masses I'd probably say this one is a rental, but for dedicated fans of John Cena and mindless action movies in general, it's easily worth a look.