Die Hard 2, Cliffhanger and The Long Kiss Goodnight might not have been great action movies. But it's hard to believe they were by the same director who made 12 Rounds. Renny Harlin dropped off immediately after making his best movie---1999's deliriously satisfying Deep Blue Sea (rated R for graphic shark attacks, and for language). The lack of confidence in the plainly bad 12 Rounds finds Harlin trying to shoehorn the jigsaw-puzzle barf-cam approach of the Bourne sequels to his action scenes. Harlin was a better director when he was trying to be Tony Scott.
The 12 rounds of the title are a series of tasks cop-hero Danny Fisher (WWE's John Cena) must survive. Diamond thief Miles (Aidan Gillen) wants revenge a year after Danny killed his girlfriend in the line of duty. The games he sets make 12 Rounds similar to Die Hard: With a Vengeance, but righteous retribution (nice psychopaths don't kill, they only try to trick you into dying) is back after the popularity of the Saw films.
Despite the familiarity, this should have been fun. Casting Cena is futile since the movie stupidly doesn't feature any hand-to-hand combat. Harlin knows how to shoot action better than this. Only one scene excites: Danny and a friend try to escape from an elevator timed to plummet many stories. It's a variant on scenes in Speed and Die Hard, but it has a fundamental understanding of suspense. The friend whines, "I can't die. I have a wife and kids." Moments later Danny looks at his friend's body bag, while a voiceover-flashback reminds us that he didn't want to die and had a wife and kids. Yup, it's that kind of movie.
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