Harlin to direct action film starring Cena, Harris

World Wrestling Entertainment is stepping into the film production ring with Fox Atomic for “12 Rounds,” tapping Renny Harlin to direct the actioner set to star grappler John Cena, Steve Harris, Aidan Gillen and Brian White.

Story centers on a New Orleans police detective (Cena) whose girlfriend is kidnapped. Harlin, who most recently helmed “The Cleaner” with Samuel L. Jackson, will direct the $20 million pic from a script by Daniel Kunka.

Production starts Feb. 25 in New Orleans. It’s WWE’s first pic to lens in the U.S., with previous pics shot in Australia.

Mark Gordon, Josh McLaughlin and WWE Films’ prexy Michael Lake are producing. WWE topper Vince McMahon serves as exec producer with Becki Trujillo.

“12 Rounds” becomes the fourth pic produced by subsid WWE Films since the production arm was formed in 2002 to develop movies that feature the pro wrestling company’s top stars.

It’s Cena’s second outing toplining a feature, following 2006’s “The Marine,” which is WWE Films’ most successful release so far, earning $22 million worldwide.

Company’s other credits include the 2006 release “See No Evil,” starring Glen “Kane” Jacobs, while “The Condemned,” with Stone Cold Steve Austin, hit theaters last year.

Fox distribbed “The Marine,” while Lionsgate handled the other two pics.

Harris, who plays an FBI agent in the pic, is best known for his role on “The Practice.” His film credits include “Diary of a Mad Black Woman” and “Bringing Down the House.”

Gillen, who takes the kidnapper role, is a regular on “The Wire,” while White co-starred in “Stomp the Yard.” He plays a cop working with Cena’s character.

20th Century Fox will release “12 Rounds” in 2009.

Harris is repped by Innovative Artists and Brillstein Entertainment.

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