12 Rounds 3: Lockdown (2015)

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twohalfstar

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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.

-Brandon Ledet

12 Rounds 2: Reloaded (2013)

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In my review for the first 12 Rounds entry I found myself asking if I would’ve enjoyed the film at all if it weren’t for its New Orleans setting. There were a couple cheap, but entertaining action movie thrills here or there, but for the most part the ludicrous ways the John Cena vehicle interacted with its local setting were the highlights of the film. That movie’s sequel, 12 Rounds 2: Reloaded strips almost everything enjoyable from its predecessor in favor of an endless slow drip of hopelessly generic action movie tropes. WWE Studios’ decisions to downgrade its star pro wrestler attraction from John Cena to Randy Orton (I like him okay in the ring, but he cannot carry a film on his own the way Cena can), to swap out its theatrical-release budget for a straight-to-DVD distribution, and to disregard any specificity in setting (this could’ve been filmed in any major city, unlike the first 12 Rounds, which is intrinsically tied to New Orleans) all sink the ship here, leaving very little of interest in the way of entrainment, mindless or otherwise.

Very little has changed in the set-up of this “reloaded” version of the 12 Rounds concept. Orton plays an buff EMT instead of a buff supercop, but he still gets wrapped up in a terrorist-conceived scavenger hunt that drags him all over the city (whatever city that may be) in an effort to rescue his potential-victim wife. Where did this concept of the 12 round scavenger hunt originate? Do terrorists collab on this kind of stuff? No matter. It’s a yawn of a journey with very few bright spots, none of which touch the heights of the first film’s silliness. Even the film’s villain is a downgrade from legit-actor Aiden Gillen’s turn in the first 12 Rounds; this time we’re being threatened by a much more generic bald dude with a leather fetish who has very specific ideas about drunk driving & political corruption.

The villain, no matter how typical, is at the very least a interesting oddity in an otherwise dull proceeding. His determination to turn the film into an anti-drunk driving PSA is at the very least not something I’m used to in my action movie dreck. There’s also some interesting cheapening of the general vibe, including some sleazy, nude hotel sex that felt wildly out of place in such a tame picture & a makeshift stoner sidekick that turns out to be more than he initially seems. The only true kickass moment in the film’s entire runtime, however, is a brief gag in which Orton employs some of his pro wrestling acumen & body slams a cop onto the hood of a car. That’s a two second clip I would’ve much rather experienced as a .gif, though, whereas I got many more small moments of light amusement from the first entry in the franchise. 12 Rounds 2: Reloaded should be reserved solely for Randy Orton’s most rabid fans & generic action movie buffs who really, really hate drunk driving. Otherwise, you’re better off avoiding it entirely.

-Brandon Ledet

12 Rounds (2009)

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three star

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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 an 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.

-Brandon Ledet