Known in the WWE ring as the “Dr. of Thuganomics,” John Cena lacks even a bachelor of arts, to judge from his dropkick of a perf in “12 Rounds.” Ludicrous pic casts Cena as a New Orleans cop whose fiancee is held hostage by an arms dealer with a grudge. Put through the titular paces, Cena’s officer unsurprisingly prevails, while the viewer, even from a seated position, deserves a championship belt for surviving this overlong actioner. The film was withheld from critics before its wide opening, which should result in so-so B.O. for a weekend until the pic gets pinned.
Heavy on stunts but light on plausibility, humor, surprise, visual ingenuity or psychological depth helmer Renny Harlin’s latest pic opens with cop Danny Fisher (Cena) hooking big catch Miles Jackson (Aidan Gillen) just after the crook’s jewel-loving g.f. has fallen victim to the perils of a high-speed chase. Suffering from grief, or perhaps just humiliation, the psychotic Jackson busts out of prison and proceeds to set up a dozen elaborate punishments for the cop — the first two of which have our hero losing his house and Molly (Ashley Scott), the love of his life.
One of the villain’s taunts challenges Fisher to sprint or motor through New Orleans streets, including those in the city’s hurricane-battered Ninth Ward. Notwithstanding its support of the Big Easy’s economy, “12 Rounds” fully wears out its welcome during round five, which requires the cop to steer a fire truck at Indy 500 speed, causing predictably massive property damage and no acceleration of the viewer’s pulse.
Oddly, only the final round, set aboard a medical helicopter, makes use of the wrestler’s one discernible talent, even if the setting doesn’t provide sufficient room for power-slamming.
Bulky Cena does a lot of running here, although Harlin breaks the heavier sweat by straining to keep pace with Paul Greengrass’ “Bourne” pics. Jittery editing — combined with the helmer’s shaky-cam images, many seen through computer screens or other extraneous frames — makes the movie very hard to watch, much less appreciate. Only a scene wherein Fisher scrambles to stop a brakeless streetcar raises one’s heart rate.
“The Marine,” Cena’s bigscreen debut, also had his character suffering from a sweetheart’s abduction, although typecasting should be the least of the actor’s worries. To be fair, Cena performs as capably as any other cast member here save for George, the pug that plays Fisher’s brilliant dog, Shortie.