In the first two 12 Rounds films, disgruntled domestic terrorists set up convoluted twelve round scavenger hunts (very similar to the one in Die Hard: With a Vengeance) as a means to teach lessons about perceived wrongs from the past. In the first film pro wrestler John Cena plays a police officer whose journey through the twelve round gauntlet works as a makeshift guided tour through New Orleans’ vast sea of tourist traps. In 12 Rounds 2: Reloaded pro wrestler Randy Orton plays an EMT whose scavenger hunt experience functions as an elaborate anti-drunk driving PSA, one with a bodycount. Curiously, 12 Rounds 3: Lockdown discards the twelve round scavenger hunt concept completely. Pro wrestler Dean Ambrose stars as the film’s good cop protagonist, John Shaw, who finds himself locked inside his own precinct with a gang of crooked narcs looking to end his life before he can expose evidence of their illegal deeds to the proper authorities. In this scenario, the “12 rounds” of the title refers to the dozen bullets in the sole gun Ambrose’s cop has to protect himself with as he faces an armed to the teeth gang of officers who are somewhat similar in character to the gang of DEA scumbags Arnold Schwarzenegger helms in Sabotage.
Removing the high concept silliness of the twelve round scavenger hunt was a huge mistake for 12 Rounds 3: Lockdown. Limiting the action to a single space & replacing the first two films’ mind games with a periodic reminder of how many of Shaw’s twelve bullets are left in the clip (“9 rounds left,” he vocally reminds himself, completely for our benefit) makes the film to be somewhat of a bore. All that’s left to distinguish the film, then is Dean Ambrose’s disappointingly underwhelming screen presence & an unusuallly large stockpile of dead cops. After the guided tour of New Orleans in the first film & the anti-drunk driving diatribe of the second, it’s interesting that 12 Rounds 3 tries to make up for its own narrative shortcomings with an onslaught of bloodshed & gunfights that result in a slew of deceased police officers. Shaw is surprisingly crafty in his cop-killing ways, careful not to waste a single one of his precious twelve rounds. In one scene he beats an officer to death with weights in the presinct’s gym. In another he ends a fight with a vicious head-stabbing. Other kills make thrifty use of electically charged doorknobs & his enemy’s own grenades. My personal favorite moment is when Shaw uses a taser to activate the body of an already dead cop to squeeze the trigger of an assault rifle resting his lifeless hand, creating enough cover fire for Shaw to escape through a comically small air vent. As much as these MacGyver shenanigans can be amusing, it never becomes clear why Shaw doesn’t collect guns or ammo from the crooked cops he kills & instead relies so heavily on those precious twelve bullets of the title.
Dean Ambrose has recently established himself as somewhat of a fan favorite in his run at the WWE. Posed as a sort of pretty boy Stone Cold Steve Austin, Ambrose is a chaotic nuetral element in “sports entertainment”. His character is a whirlwind of bad boy chaos that (heterosexual) female fans seem to find irresistibly attractive, despite the slight hint of a comb-over meant to mask not only the beginnings of male pattern baldness, but also the damage to his forehead left over from his history of extreme, hardcore “death matches” in minor wrestling promotions. Lockdown only makes minimal use of Ambrose’s wrestling background, which (like the disregard for the original 12 Rounds concept) is a damn shame. It is funny, as a fan, that women are the only characters who are nice to his down-on-his-luck cop Shaw in the film and during a boyfight in the precinct’s locker-room there’s a shot of him bodyslamming an opponent through a wooden bench that almost had me chanting “We want tables!,” but otherwise there aren’t nearly enough references to his wrestling career here. Who do they think is watching this movie?
Ambrose’s performance is a calm, brooding sort of good guy bravado that makes little use of the explosive, rebellious personality that makes him so compelling in the ring. Also, although these pro wrestlers are always understandably adept at selling pain during their martial arts sequences, it always surprises me that no use is made of their signature wrestling moves in their motion picture vehicles. The only time I can remember ever seeing that done was The Rock delivering a Rock Bottom to Jason Statham in Furious 7 earlier this year. Why couldn’t Lockdown find a way to work in an Dirty Deeds for Ambrose? It certainly bent over backwards to make its ludicrous locked-inside-a-precinct concept work. Even an elbow drop would’ve been nice, preferably with Ambrose taking out ten opponents at once, as he is known to do. Watching him conserve bullets, hack into the mainframe, and search for a cellphone signal aren’t nearly as entertaining as a little old elbow drop could’ve been. In fact, the film’s villain (Roger R. Cross) is far more exciting than Shaw, providing a full-form example of Roger Ebert’s Talking Killer trope to an often hilarious degree (favorite line: [after punching Shaw] “That was my good cop. Wait til you see my bad cop.”). That’s not to say that Ambrose is entirely underwhelming in Lockdown. At the very least he’s far more compelling than Randy Orton was in12 Rounds 2. It’s just that the film’s muted, stardard action movie concept & his protagonist’s restrictions as a consummate “good guy” make for an overall dull combo that all the dead cops in the world can’t seem to overcome, whether or not their corpses are being tased or exploded.