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12 Rounds

(2009) ** Pg-13
108 min. 20th Century Fox Distribution. Director: Renny Harlin. Cast: John Cena, Steve Harris, Aidan Gillen, Brian J. White, Gonzalo Menendez.

/content/films/3472/1.jpgBack in the days of silent film, the brilliant comic actor Buster Keaton was known as "The Great Stone Face." Watching John Cena star in an action picture for the second time (the first being The Marine), I had to think it may be time to give him a nickname: perhaps "The Persistent Concrete Slab"? The occasion of Cena's return to the big screen is 12 Rounds, a thriller perhaps more notable for its director, Renny Harlin. This Finnish filmmaker ain't finished!

The unpretentious Harlin's action chops--honed on flicks like Cliffhanger, and The Long Kiss Goodnight--hit the wall with domestic studios, which tried him out on cheapie horror pictures that put him on the outs with audiences (anyone remember Mindbenders? I didn't think so...). 12 Rounds is also awfully forgettable, but Harlin makes things go boom again, with ruthless efficiency that puts the flick just over the hump of the straight-to-cable Jeff Speakman school. WWE wrestler turned WWE Films actor Cena plays New Orleans Police Detective Danny Fisher, a cop who won't take "he's getting away!" for an answer. When he apprehends arms trafficker Miles Jackson (Aiden Gillen of The Wire)--otherwise known as "the face of evil"--Jackson's girlfriend bites the dust. One year later, there'll be hell to pay as the mad mastermind kidnaps Fisher's woman (Ashley Scott) and inititates "twelve rounds" of adversarial mind games.

As scripted by Daniel Kunka, 12 Rounds appropriates the cat-and-mouse run-around-town plot from the sequel to Harlin's Die Hard 2: Die Hard With a Vengeance. Fisher has to solve puzzles and troubleshoot FBI interference (from the likes of The Practice's Steve Harris, bless him). It's stupidly unrealistic nonsense, but I'd be lying if I said it wasn't a little fun in its "Beat the Clock for action heroes" way. This sort of picture relies entirely on pace, and Harlin keeps it up, somehow maximizing what couldn't have been a generous budget into a reasonably consistent demolition derby. A lot of the mileage (and budgetary wiggle room) comes from shooting in New Orleans, a city very happy to welcome business, even if it meant abdicating a main drag for runaway-trolley mayhem. Character is strictly of the paper-doll-cutout variety: Fisher's been living with Molly for two weeks, but he learns to be the man she needs and not to take her for granted. Awwww--I mean, um, spoiler alert?

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Aspect ratios: 2.39:1

Number of discs: 2

Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1

Street date: 6/30/2009

Distributor: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

Fox lards up 12 Rounds on Blu-ray with plenty of bonus features in support of a sharp and vibrant hi-def presentation. Detail and color pop off the screen in this well-mastered, rock-solid transfer from a pristine source. The lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround mix is definitive, delivering impressive wraparound immersion and potent action effects.

The extras begin with commentary by director Renny Harlin (unrated version only) and commentary by writer Daniel Kunka and John Cena (unrated version only). These genial tracks are for the film's committed fans only, but they are solid efforts with few disruptive pauses and much substantial behind-the-scenes information.

"Streetcar Crossing: Film with Caution" (16:27, HD) details the long and elaborate shoot for the film's central action sequence. Interviewees include Harlin, Cena, producer Michael Lake, Luukas Harlin, stunt coordinator Steve Ritzi, Gonzalo Menendez, stuntman Wally Crowder, producer Josh McLaughlin, and stuntman Buddy Joe Hooker. The piece also serves as a sort of set diary, noting not only production details, but personal happenings like a visit from a Make-a-Wish child happy to meet Cena and be an extra.

"A Crash Course: John Cena Stunts" (9:51, HD) has a self-explanatory focus, and includes comments from Crowder, Ritzi, Lake, Cena, Menendez, and Harlin.

"Never-Before-Cena Gag Reel" (4:50, HD) isn't actually a gag reel, per se; it's a featurette about what a lighthearted set Harlin ran on 12 Rounds. Cena, Brian White, Harlin, Steve Harris, Ashley Scott, cameraman Jerry Jacob, Menendez, Lake contribute interviews, and there's a bit of blooper-style cast mugging, but this is more of a behind-the-scenes featurette.

"Keeping Score: The Music of 12 Rounds" (3:16, HD) interviews Harlin, composer Trevor Rabin, principal cellist Steven Erdody, conductor Gordon Goodwin, and principal viola Andrew Duckles while giving us a look at the scoring session.

"Round and Round with Renny and John" (4:05, HD) is a self-consciously goofy chat between director and star.

Not done, Fox collates twelve brief "Bonus Rounds" featurettes (20:22, HD), each focused on a behind-the-scenes element (such as Kunka's development of the script).

Last up are two "Alternate Endings" (1:58, HD), which come with optional commentary by either Harlin or Kunka and Cena, and two amusing "Viral Videos" (3:41, HD) mocking Cena's action stardom.

A second disc includes a Digital Copy for the option of portable digital playback.

Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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