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Douglas Pratt

By Douglas Pratt

12 Rounds

Wrestler John Cena jumps off the ropes to take a shot at action hero stardom as a New Orleans cop in12 Rounds, a Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment release directed by the depreciated action maven, Renny Harlin. Aidan Gillen portrays an Irish terrorist who kidnaps the hero’s wife and makes him do all sorts of crazy things to get her back, often forcing him to rush at blazing speed from one end of town to the other. There is a method behind the villain’s madness, however, and it is this plot turn that changes the 2009 production from being just a mindless display of high-energy activity to being an enjoyable mindless display of high-energy activity. As for Cena, he’s a little too smooth and sculpted to make a believable cop (that was one thing Bruce Willis always had going for him-he was tough, but paunchy), but he still tackles his role gamely and performs his stunts without losing his character. Advantageously, the film has a minimum of special effects work to back up its crashes and falls, so it sustains the feel of the small, brisk thriller it wants to be. There are a few plot points that don’t quite hold up to close inspection, and until the twist, the villain’s manipulations seem absurd to the point where a viewer might not be interested in sticking with it, but on the whole the film is busy enough to hold one’s attention and clever enough to make that attention worthwhile.

Two versions of the film are presented, the theatrical version, which runs 108 minutes, and a director’s cut, which runs 109 minutes. Since the film was designed for general audiences, the additional moments mostly involve character development, and just a little bit of extra blood. The picture is presented in letterboxed format only, with an aspect ratio of about 2.35:1 and an accommodation for enhanced 16:9 playback. The color transfer is okay.
The 5.1-channel Dolby Digital sound is not overly pumped, but supports the action effectively. There are alternate French and Spanish tracks in standard stereo, optional English and Spanish subtitles, a 5-minute ‘gag’ reel consisting mostly of behind-the-scenes hijinks, a good 10-minute segment on the film’s numerous stunt sequences and two minutes of slightly altered endings.

The film and the alternate endings have two commentary tracks, one from Harlin, and one from Cena and screenwriter Daniel Kunka. Harlin’s talk is very good, constantly describing aspects of the production process and how he achieved his goals in each sequence. He has, seemingly, no appreciation of cinema in his art. He mentions that the film has more than 3000 edits, which means that the camera never lingers on anything long enough to establish an appreciation. The greatest action directors could thrill you but still convey an aesthetic sensibility blended with the action. At 3000 edits, however, you never get beneath the surface, and it is that superficiality that has prevented Harlin from landing bigger gigs, despite his technical proficiency. Kunka and Cena supplement his talk with more anecdotes and a more relaxed assessment of the narrative. Cena also enjoys debunking some popular high-tech film clichés. “When you write a movie about a guy on a cell phone, everybody’s like, ‘Well, can’t you just track him on the cell phone?’ It’s funny. We met with the FBI and we’re like, ‘Hey, can you track cell phones?’ And they’re like, ‘Nah, not really. Sometimes. If we’ve got the number. If we don’t, we really can’t.'”

– by Douglas Pratt

Douglas Pratt’s DVD-Laser Disc Newsletter is published monthly.
For a free sample, call (516)594-9304 or go to his website at

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