Movie News & Reviews

'12 Rounds' tired plot comes off as punch-drunk

From the continuing case files of studly HBO actors in thankless movieroles: Aidan Gillen of "The Wire" as the unstoppable criminalmastermind in 12 Rounds.

With that update out of the way — you're welcome — let's move on toserious business. It's come to my attention that when you work out ofyour living room, it's much harder to convince the office that themild cold you have is actually a crippling illness that will requireyou to abdicate your responsibilities for the next week in favor ofwatching your roommate play zombie video games. (He just killed achainsaw-juggling clown. It was pretty sweet.)

I'm sorry, I'm going to have to cut this short; we just found thesniper rifle. I just wanted you all to know that despite a runningnose, I did my job this weekend. I think the Nobel committee's inStockholm. My name's Ed.

In the New Orleans of 12 Rounds, the FBI are on the verge ofputting away notorious arms dealer Aidan Gillen. Local cop John Cenais the man who runs him down, but in the chase, Gillen’s girlfrienddies in an accident.

It’s a year later. Gillen has broken out of prison. Blaming Cena forthe loss of his love, he kidnaps Cena's girlfriend Ashley Scott andsets up a deadly game: survive 12 rounds of puzzles and traps, andhe wins her back. Fail, and she dies.

12 Rounds pairs veteran director Renny Harlin with first-timescreenwriter Daniel Kunka. For the first few minutes, it appears tobe a solid match. With confident storytelling and flavorful dialogue,they set the tone for a winning thriller.

Then the remaining 98 minutes of movie happen.

The first big warning light goes off when the last thing Cena andScott do before she’s kidnapped is have a fight. If you were making anold-timey treasure map of the plot, that’s where you’d mark “HERETHERE BE CHEAP DRAMA.”

The waters soon grow dark with schools of hungry cliches. Let's setaside, for a moment, the concept of the criminal mastermind who forceshis cop rival into a series of comically improbable tasks, like a gameof Mousetrap where your girlfriend dies at the end. This has never,ever happened in the history of police or murder, but it's thefoundation for an entire genre of movies and books, so we'll just haveto wait until it dies a quiet death like musicals and westerns.

While we're busy waiting on that, 12 Rounds blesses us with onemore case of a good cop coerced into tear-assing around town withincreasingly reckless abandon. When Cena's not saving innocent lives(in admittedly decent action sequences), he's dealing with the FBI(there's a good agent and a bad agent) and solving Gillen'scrazy puzzles just in the nick of time.

By the fifth or sixth round, it even feels tired of itself,compressing rounds or skipping them altogether. Locked down by its owngimmick, it's got no time for anything that doesn't involve runningtowards a bomb or away from the explosion.

A tacked-on late-hour twist tries to absolve it of this — see, it'sreally not a "diabolical madman takes personalrevenge"-thriller — but that's just trying to have its cake and eat ittoo. 12 Rounds moves at breakneck speed through a story we'veheard a hundred times before.

Grade: C