The last time wrestling superstar John Cena was seen on the big screen, he was bursting through walls and diving away from rapid-fire explosions in The Marine. Three years later, he returns in 12 Rounds, another seemingly action-packed fiesta that finds him cast as another cop whose wife is kidnapped by a diamond thief. The fact that the muscle-bound jock is basically making the same movie all over again would normally be good news -- until you sit down and realize that this is not the same tasty dumb '80s throwback as before. In reality, this far-too-serious affair is Cena's foray into thriller territory, where his fists do less talking than his mush-mouth does (which for half the film is mumbling into his cell phone on speaker). Sure, there are stabs at fiery suspense, but mostly the flick boils down to a tepid Die Hard With a Vengeance retread (which is ironic, since 12 Rounds is helmed by none other than Renny Harlin, the director of the second John McClane adventure).
The basic gist is this: John Cena is a New Orleans cop who single-handedly catches an international terrorist during a failed FBI bust, but only after aiding in the death of the villain's girlfriend. One year later, the bad guy comes a-knockin' and makes the detective go through a series of games in exchange for his wife's life. Later, the cops find out it was all a ruse in order to steal money, and it's up to Cena to take the law into his own hands -- not only to save his wife, but to keep future sequels safe from the Irish mastermind of terror and terrible accents, Miles Jackson (Aidan Gillen).
Despite its rudimentary plot, the film could still have been a fun ride. 12 Rounds starts off solid, beginning with Cena chasing a car on foot through the Katrina-plagued projects, and ending with the brawny beefcake pushing a boat into the path of the baddies' car for an underwhelming (but acceptable) vehicular crash. So right there, the film kisses up to the idea that it might be playing in unreal territory. It soon becomes sadly obvious, however, that this really isn't the case -- even if Cena does do a lot more running around for no reason. The end result is a near-videogame plot, where the protagonist is made to race around the city to accomplish 12 maddeningly dull games. So Cena runs over here, does his task, then huffs into a phone to get directions to the next spot he needs to go -- successfully boring the audience every step of the way. Only in the last scene does the hero finally unleash some fisticuffs -- but even then, it's all shot in such a needlessly frenzied style that the audience couldn't figure out what was going on even if they cared one bit about the outcome (which they most likely wouldn't).
At the end of the day, 12 Rounds is the equivalent of being on a treadmill parked in front of a dull dweeb who's reciting the plot of Die Hard 3 for close to two hours; it's not fun and it gets tiring real fast. Let's face it -- it's nearly impossible to out-outrageous The Marine, but Cena doesn't need to turn it up to 11 on every flick he does. What he does need to do is realize that he is not an entertainer who should ever demand "character development" in his film contracts. He's a walking set of muscles glued together with a mouth that should utter no more than a few lines every ten minutes, and that's it. Until he -- and his producers -- understand this, audiences should pray that they be knocked out early rather than go through another 12 rounds with a hunk of junk like this.