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Tuesday, March 31, 2009

12 Rounds

When I think of 12 Rounds I tend to think of what I used to put away when I was young and frisky and out on the town. Sure, I may have been “easy” but I wasn’t cheap. I liked the good stuff and I still do; that’s why it is difficult for me to find too many movies out there that really give me an “oomph.”

People ask me at least a dozen times a week “Have you seen a good movie lately?” and I find myself fumbling for the name of something to tell them whether it is “good” or not. Fortunately, this week, if anyone asks me, I’m going to interpret their question as “Have you Cena good movie lately?” because that’s an easy one to answer. Absolutely!

I just got home from the Essex Cinemas, where I saw 12 Rounds, a surprisingly entertaining cop thriller. It stars World Wrestling Federation superstar John Cena (The Marine) as Danny Fisher, a beat cop, who, along with his partner Hank Carver (Brian J. White; The Game Plan), answers a call to head off an on-the-run psycho mass-murdering drug lord, Miles Jackson (Aiden Gillen; tv’s “The Wire”), who has just escaped an FBI sting by slaughtering everybody involved. In the confrontation with Fisher and Carver, Jackson’s girlfriend and accomplice, Erica (Taylor Cole; An American in China) is accidently killed as she runs away and straight into the path of an on-coming 18-wheeler. Don’t you just hate when that happens? Ewww. Of course there is an up-side. It’s enough to shock Miles into stopping in his tracks long enough for Fisher to cuff him. I know you are thinking “Well that is the shortest movie ever” but this is only the beginning.

Cut to a year later and the beat cops are now Detectives Fisher and Carver and Fisher is engaged to his longtime girlfriend Molly (Ashley Scott; of tv’s late and lamented “Jericho”) and life is happy, happy, joy, joy. That is until Danny gets a call on his cell phone one morning from Jackson asking him to play a game.

Here’s where the fun begins, and it really is too sick not to enjoy. Miles, which, by the way, I think is the worst name ever for a psycho-terrorist because it sounds far too sweet and should only be used as a name for a fat pussycat, tells Fisher he has kidnapped Molly and will return her alive and well at the end of 12 Rounds of play if Danny actually gets that far in the game. What happens next is a jaw-dropping display of amazing stunts and clever puzzles as Fisher works non-stop to figure out and perform the tasks before him within a limited time span. Think of it as a combination of Die Hard, Saw and Speed all rolled up into one. This isn’t to say it is a knock-off of these three, but it does include elements that are reminiscent of the former films as the game ticks on and disposes of several innocent people as mere collateral damage in the wake of Jackson’s scheme.

By Round 12 so much has happened that seems completely random in terms of the types of “games” Fisher has been forced to play this day that when he and FBI Special Agent George Aiken (Steve Harris; Quarantine) come together they finally put two plus two together and realize there is a whole lot more to these games than either of them thought.

Now I’m not going to reveal more about this, but to say this is where 12 Rounds truly delights me. It turns the action film on its head and had me going “Oh no they didn’t!” while I was watching it. First time writer Daniel Kunka has pulled a bait-and-switch on us without anyone even suspecting we were being duped until the last twenty minutes or so of the movie. Director Renny Harlin (The Covenant) is equally complicit since he crafts 12 Rounds as a simple albeit slick revenge story, or at least something that looks like a simple but slick revenge story when in fact it is actually more along the lines of a carnival ball shuffle where the guy is supposed to put the little rubber ball under the coconut shell and shuffle three of them all around and it’s to up to you to guess where the ball might be, while all the time the carney has actually palmed the ball to trick you before he even began. 12 Rounds is like that. It’s one of those rare films where what you’ve seen is not what you’ve gotten and when you finally get it, you’ll have one of those Homer Simpson “D’Oh!” moments, but by then you’ll love that you’ve been had because the grift is so well done.

I doubt many of you will believe me when I tell you Cena is actually pretty darn good in this, but he is. The guy is smart enough to know his limits and he chooses his roles well so they highlight his strengths and downplay any weaknesses. In other words, he doesn’t have too many lines and they’ve cut out all the love scenes and anything that requires emotions beyond Hulk-like rage. Hey, with muscles like his, who’s looking at his tear ducts anyway?

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