12 Rounds

Director    Renny Harlin
Starring    John Cena, Aiden Gillen, Ashley Scott, Steve Harris, Taylor Cole
Release    27 MAR (US) 27 MAY (UK)    Certificate 12A
2 stars


2nd June 2009

The WWE has produced many icons over the years, from Hulk Hogan to The Rock, and in a roundabout way, Randy 'The Ram' Robinson. Few of them, however, have managed to translate success in the ring to the big screen. Just look at the Hulkster - a pants-wearing legend in the ring, reduced to Mr. Nanny, Suburban Commando and *shudders* Hogan Knows Best. Dwayne Johnson on the other hand made the tricky transition work, but it took him a hell of a lot of movies to shake off the shackles of his eyebrow-raising alter-ego. Now, in his second film, John Cena - the WWE's answer to a 'roided-up Matt Damon, whips out his 'acting' chops once again for Speed 3, or as it's otherwise known, 12 Rounds.

Just like in The Marine, John Cena finds himself in a problematic situation thanks to his dozy missus. After international terrorist and evil genius Miles Jackson (Gillen) blames Detective Danny Fisher (Cena) for the death of his girlfriend, he kidnaps Fisher's squeeze and demands he completes twelve ridiculously complicated challenges around New Orleans to secure her release. Can he better Ricky Hatton and last the full 12 Rounds? Think of it as a meet and greet between Speed, Phone Booth and Saw, only with Vince McMahon hanging around off-set, making sure his cash cow doesn't get hurt.

12 Rounds could easily be another sequel to Speed; as it's produced by Mark Gordon, the man behind Speed and Speed 2, the similarities damn near slap you round the face. Not only is Miles Jackson's devious plan Dennis Hopper-esque, there are members of the public in danger with our 'hero' trying to save them, and a tram with no breaks hurtling down a hill towards, you guessed it, innocent bystanders. We even see a 'bomb on the bus' situation - if you don't feel compelled to quote Milhouse Van Houten's "This is like Speed 2, but on a bus instead of a boat" line, then shame on you.

While John Cena's tree trunk-like arms go hand in hand with his wooden acting, Aiden Gillen steals the show as the cheerful yet sadistic terrorist, even if he does retain a little of his Queer As Folk camp. Nonetheless, the more experienced actor keeps the story chugging along nicely, set piece after set piece, allowing for the freakishly large Cena to concentrate on the action side of business.

But no matter how entertaining it is to see everything - or indeed anything - get blown up, the '12 Round' game actually wears pretty thin - by the eighth round, you'll struggle to remember why you should care. Regardless of the action being genuine, without nary a whiff of CGI, you can only see so many explosions or crashes before they grow tiresome.

12 Rounds is guilty of nothing more than trying to be a no-brainer action movie. Like Cena's debut, The Marine, a more experienced actor is thrown into the mix (Robert Patrick there, Gillen here) to split the burden and allows Cena to make with the flexing. At present, Cena lacks the charm and staying power that Dwayne Johnson possesses that made his transition from ring to screen a success. Cena can carry these action movies for the time being, but if he wants to take the acting career further, he'll have to dip his kneepads, elbowpads and wrist tape into other genres and work outside WWE Studios. My advice to him? Do some Disney. After all, who'd have thought The Rock's movie career would take off after The Scorpion King?

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