Generic Action Movie #8 (I counted!) from WWE Studios was a (surprise!) John Cena vehicle meant to follow up his acting debut in The Marine. When considered outside of time & cultural context, 12 Rounds has very little going for it as a genre film. Its villain, played by (The Wire & Game of Thrones vet) Aidan Gillen, is mildly interesting in his playful scavenger hunt that he uses to keep Cena’s supercop off his trail, but the plot isn’t anything we haven’t seen done better in the past, particularly in Die Hard 3: Die Hard with a Vengeance. There are explosions (!!!) and helpless wives used as collatoral/potential victims (!!!), but nothing too exceptional to be found therein. No, what makes 12 Rounds distinct is the place & time of its setting.
Filmed in post-Katrina New Orleans on the back of those sweet, sweet Louisiana film tax credits, 12 Rounds is a potentially fun watch for locals looking to roll their eyes at an action movie determined to cram every possible New Orleanian cliché (short of maybe beignets & gumbo) into a single picture that honestly has nothing to do with the city outside of its setting. Our tour guide for this trip is NOPD officer John Cena (God, I love the way that sounds), who shows us through such great landmarks as “The Lake Pontchartrain Causeway”, Algiers Point, Decatur, a brief glimpse of The Saturn Bar, Bourbon Street (of course), etc. Sometimes the movie accidentally gets New Orleans right, especially while stumbling through the French Quarter’s drunks & street performers, but it’s most entertaining when it gets the city horribly wrong.
For instance, there’s a scene where Cena’s potential-victim wife boards the ferry at Algiers Point & he can’t reach her in time, so he steals a car, drives down the levy an somehow crosses the Crescent City Connection before the ferry reaches the other side. Incredible. There’s also some silliness involving using Katrina X-code markings (which are gravely serious business) as clues on the scavenger hunt that felt particularly tasteless. The most ludicrous detail of all, however, is a ludicrous effort in which supercop Cena has to stop a runaway streetcar on Canal before it “smashes through” the end of the line. The strained effort to make the streetcar look fast & dangerous might be the height of the film’s New Orleanian silliness.
It’s difficult to tell if non-locals will find any enjoyment in this inaccurate foolishness, but there are a couple non-New Orleans moments of camp to be found here or there in 12 Rounds. The way Cena talks shit about punching Gillen’s mad terrorist in the face feels like a goofy extension of his pro wrestling promo work. There’s a scene in which he has to drive a bomb to the Mississippi River before it destroys “three city blocks”, but once he tosses it underwater, it barely makes a splash. In the grand finale, as Cena’s supercop & his wife are exiting a helicopter, she shouts “You land it, bitch” & the couple jump without parachutes into a rooftop pool as the sky rains money & fire around them. These moments may be mildly amusing, but they are by no means the height of action movie hijinks. Because of the exaggerated use of its setting, 12 Rounds‘ best chance for entertainment is in perplexing New Orleanian action movie fans looking for an incredulous chuckle or two as a uniformed John Cena takes them on an impossible city tour.