Once upon a time, a young Renny Harlin made Die Hard 2 (1990), which, in the end, just turned out to be a simple re-hash of John McTiernan’s Die Hard (1988). After that sequel, McTiernan returned to the franchise with 1995’s Die Hard: With a Vengeance. And now, 14 years later, Harlin has finally gotten the chance to rip off that movie with 12 Rounds.
OK, so the movies aren’t exactly the same, but there are similarities between the two. Harlin utilizes the same shaky-cam documentary style. And the plots—both of which center around a master European terrorist leading a cop through a series of dangerous challenges in a bid for revenge—are uncannily similar.
But in this case, there’s no Bruce Willis. Instead, we get pro-wrestler John Cena, a man with a neck bigger than his head (if you shaved his head he’d look like a thumb), with the kind of range that makes Willis look like Sir Laurence Olivier. Seriously, the guy walks through the movie with the pained look of someone trying really hard to do long division in his head.
For lovers of trashy cinema, you may remember Cena played a marine in the aptly titled The Marine (2006). That film was a big, dumb action picture that was kind of entertaining in that it rolled around in its own stupidity. Here, we get none of that, since Harlin seems to think he’s a real-life film director, and the junk he’s shooting is a real-life movie. This is pretty much false on both counts, and it turns just plain boring in the process.
Here, Cena plays Danny Fisher, a New Orleans beat cop who catches international arms dealer Miles Jackson (Aidan Gillan, Shanghai Knights), an Irishman who slips in and out of his brogue (an even odder occurrence once you realize the actor playing him is actually Irish). Anyway, while in the process of being arrested, Miles’ girlfriend (TV actress Taylor Cole) meets the business end of a pickup truck.
Flash forward a year, and Danny and his token black partner (Brian J. White, The Game Plan) have been promoted to detectives (take a wild guess at which one of these guys isn’t making it to the final reel). Never mind that Danny looks like a guy who couldn’t detect his own posterior with both hands; this isn’t important. What is important is that Miles has busted out of prison, kidnapped Danny’s girlfriend, Molly (Ashley Scott, Strange Wilderness), and blown up his house—and his plumber. It seems that Miles, in a convoluted fit of criminal genius, is holding Molly hostage and forcing Danny to complete a series of 12 challenges—all of which include a large amount of property damage—in order to win her freedom.
Will Danny succeed? Is there more to Miles’ plan than meets the eye? Will Cena’s neck gain sentience? All these questions and more will be answered if you can manage to give a damn and stay awake through it all. Really, it’s all just an excuse for running over cars with a fire truck and blowing up a lot of stuff real good—not to mention one more in-vain attempt at ending Harlin’s cockroach-like career. If Cutthroat Island (1995) and The Covenant (2006) couldn’t do it, 12 Rounds certainly isn’t likely to. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action.