There’s not much to say about 12 Rounds, which claims to be an action thriller but never gets around to producing any thrills, except for ending after only 108 minutes. John Cena, of American professional wrestling, stars as a beat cop who arrests a criminal mastermind by chance, and must save his girlfriend when the same terrorist kidnaps her a year later. The film was produced by WWE Studios, the movie arm of major wrestling outfit World Wrestling Entertainment, so the title, apart from referencing a plot point, is a clever way to rope in Cena’s longtime followers.
It’s hard to imagine anyone other than those followers enjoying 12 Rounds, which is as ordinary as a multimillion-dollar movie can get. In 1896, Frenchman Louis Lumiére set up his camera beside a railroad track. The resulting shot, of the arrival of a train, was so startling that some viewers screamed or moved away from the screen as they watched. Today’s moviegoing public is pumped so full of high-octane footage that we yawn as a fireball rips through an apartment building or as a luxury car does somersaults on the highway. Flying under an overpass becomes passé; driving on the sidewalk becomes pedestrian. Movie studios compensate with bigger explosions and more elaborate chases, seeking to shock us even as they jade us.
Thus we have films like 12 Rounds, which zooms from one action sequence to the next but leaves the plot behind. Cena and Aidan Gillen (HBO’s The Wire) have little to do except play good-cop/bad-guy; there’s no characterization to help texture their line readings. Without a compelling story or compelling leads, the promotional materials fall back on credentials—‘From the director of Die Hard 2 and the producer of Speed’. To be fair, 12 Rounds does borrow from both films—there is a cop running around trying to save his woman from the hands of a terrorist, and there is a bomb on a bus.
To be really fair, the film copies elements from every action blockbuster of the last twenty-five years, from Commando to The Fast and the Furious. But we shouldn’t fault it for failing to live up to its obligations any more than we should fault ourselves for neglecting ours. John Cena is only the latest in a century-strong battalion of Aryan supermen projected onto screens around the world. The United States has a narrow definition of hero, and it looks like Charlton Heston and Sylvestor Stallone and John Cena. It always has, and for the foreseeable future it will.
So be it. It is up to us to recognize that America maintains her power most directly, and with the greatest accuracy, not with smart bombs, but with dull hits like 12 Rounds. Because of her relentless propaganda, half our countrymen and women want to emigrate to Florida; they will be the ones enduring the midday sun tomorrow outside the American embassy in Liguanea. Standing in the sun, dreaming about a place only the movies can hallucinate—the land of the freeze-frame and the home of bravado.
Here’s a suggestion for the next action film you should see: Arrival of a Train by Louis Lumiére. It’s an oldie but a goodie.
Directed by Renny Harlin.
With John Cena and Aidan Gillen.
108 minutes. Action.