Officer Danny Fisher (Cena) gets the break of his career when he nabs terrorist Miles Jackson (Gillen). Unluckily for both, the perps girlfriend is killed during the arrest. A year later, he escapes from jail, kidnaps Fishers partner, Molly (Scott), and
Mickey Rourke may have received a richly deserved Oscar nomination as a washed-up wrestler, but since the days of Wallace Beery, the history of wrestling superstars making the transition to the movies has been spotty at best. Hulk Hogan had a crack at it in the early ’90s, and wound up as the star of a terrifying reality TV show. ‘Rowdy’ Roddy Piper looked promising in John Carpenter’s paranoiac sci-fi yarn They Live, but few could deny it would have been a better movie if Carpenter’s collaborator, Kurt Russell, had played the lead. Only The Rock — aka Dwayne Johnson — has successfully translated his considerable charm and charisma into bona fide big-screen stardom, scoring in action fare such as The Mummy Returns and Walking Tall and kid-friendly crowd-pleasers like The Game Plan and Race To Witch Mountain.
Now into the ring — or rather, out of it — steps WWE superstar John Cena, and if the hope is for him to follow in The Rock’s oversized footsteps, this is definitely how to go about it. First, give him a script worthy of Denzel, which snaps, crackles and pops, and never slows down long enough to show that Cena is new to this acting malarkey; cast a more seasoned actor (Aiden Gillen, last seen in The Wire as wily mayor Tommy Carcetti) as the villain; finally, hire a veteran action director (Cliffhanger’s Renny Harlin) who’s hungry for a comeback — and then turn the action dial up to 11. Or, indeed, 12.
12 Rounds’ series of CG-free action set-pieces, powered by a driving Trevor Rabin score, take place almost in real time, giving the film a sense of thundering urgency underlined by Harlin’s jumpy camerawork and rapid edits (no single shot lasts longer than three seconds).
Although Cena’s physical resemblance to a kind of frowning, powershake-enhanced Mark Wahlberg doesn’t bode too well for his acting ability, the erstwhile wrestler does prove surprisingly competent at holding your attention. He may not have The Rock’s easy charisma, or even his range, but on this evidence, John Cena’s post-grappling screen career has a promising future.
Derivative it may be, but with its echoes of Speed, Lethal Weapon and Die Hard With A Vengeance, this is a welcome throwback for audiences raised on 90s action flicks what they used to call a pulse-pounding roller-coaster thrill-ride of a movie.