12 Rounds: Extreme Cut [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray A - America - Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: Jeremiah Chin (9th September 2009).
The Film

Athletes turning into movie stars (or at least actors) is no new phenomenon and I don’t think it has any signs of stopping. For the most part, they meet the basic level of celebrity required to make people want to watch them in a movie, regardless of acting talent. From most pure sports it’s hard to find someone who can act the part well, like Ray Allen did in the underappreciated “He Got Game” (1997), but for pro wrestlers it seems a much more natural transition to just playing their part in an action movie since wrestling is as much about acting and performing for an audience as it is about athletic ability. I’ve already sung the praises of Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, but his great performances as both heel and face in the (then) WWF were a part of my weekly viewing. John Cena on the other hand is a little after my time, and I never really got into his character within the WWE empire. With a movie like “12 Rounds” (2009) it plays more towards the action entertainment brand of WWE, but since I already don’t really buy into John Cena it lingers around awesomely bad territory long enough to keep it from being sheer stupidity.

Living a fairly average life as a New Orleans patrol officer, Danny Fisher (John Cena) suddenly gets involved in the high speed pursuit of a supremely dangerous arms dealer being followed by the FBI. Through some of his detective work and persistence he manages to nab the criminal, Miles Jackson (Aidan Gillen) even though Jackson’s girlfriend gets hit by a car and dies in the process. One year later Fisher is promoted to Detective and things seem to be on the up and up until Jackson escapes from prison and kidnaps Fisher’s wife. In order to get her back, Fisher has to play Jackson’s game of pursit, tracking him through the city before his wife and more innocent bystanders get hurt in Jackson’s play for vengeance. At the same time the FBI arrives with Agents Aiken (Steve Harris) and Santiago (Gonzalo Menendez) who are also trying to bring Jackson back to prison, though Aiken seems more concerned with taking out Jackson than getting Fisher’s wife back.

The way the plot follows the detective around the city navigating tasks run by a mastermind is almost a redo of “Die Hard With a Vengeance” (1995), which makes sense considering director Renny Harlin directed “Die Hard 2: Die Harder” (1990) and obviously didn’t get asked back for the third movie. It plays a lot like Harlin’s version of ‘If I did it, here’s how it would happen’ but starring Cena instead of Willis, losing a lot of acting talent and badass qualities in the process. Harlin’s directing knows how to make the action move, but where it fails is in the overabundant use of flashbacks to dumb down the plot of the movie for the audience at the end, even though the twist is incredibly similar to “Die Hard With a Vengance.” His use of handheld cameras isn’t terrible, the film isn’t so overly shiny that it makes you question the technique, but is fairly mixed between effective use in action scenes and a bit underwhelming to annoying in the dialogue scenes, but the dialogue and plot are tangential to the action so it jumps a bit faster.

Going back to the actors, WWE studios does a fairly good job of surrounding Cena with decent actors like Steve Harris who doesn’t appear as often as I would expect in movies considering his talent. There’s not a lot of depth to explore, and they thankfully don’t go too far since it’s an action movie and it needs to keep going. Aidan Gillen tries to play the Simon Gruber role, but the ratio of greatness between Gillen and Jeremy Irons is about the same drop-off in talent that you get between Willis and Cena. Plus there’s no Sam Jackson everyman character to just tag along and yell about how crazy everything is getting.

Still the action has it’s fine points, there’s a cool helicopter scene, a few good firefights, but what really stands out is Cena using a firetruck to race to the next ‘round’ location to save his girl, crashing through hundreds of cars in ways that don’t happen as often as they should. They keep what needs to be practical, like the car crashes, practical, and use CG fairly sparingly outside of some of the props like a thumbprint detonator that Jackson carries around with him.

Outside of a few solid action sequences, “12 Rounds” is far too similar to “Die Hard With a Vengance” with only a few changes in settings and outcome, but downgraded to a 'PG-13' scale with lesser actors. Harlin isn’t a terrible action director, but he doesn’t seem to relish the action sequences with the audience to draw them further into the movie. I also wanted far more ridiculous lines from Cena as the movie tries to come across as more serious than a crazy action extravaganza that it should have been. The acting power isn’t there to get it done, nor is the writing or directing; it’s an overall product that could have been better, even with all the plot similarities, with some improvements in the leads, writing and directing.

Video

Presented in a 2.40:1 aspect ratio in high-definition 1080p 24/fps with AVC MPEG-4 encoding at 26 MBPS. The film itself looks clear, though with some grain problems in the darker and low light sequences where the contrast looses it’s way. During the action and with all the quick cuts and shaking camera movements from the handheld, the image clarity stays fairly intact and keeps a crisper feel without any sudden drops in clarity that can ruin an experience when you use as many quick cuts as Harlin does in the film.

Audio

With the English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track mixed at 48kHz/24-bit, I got good sound effects and movement that I need from an action film, bringing the different gun shots and car noises (crashes and tire squeals) to match up properly with the movie without over-blowing anything. The score by Trevor Rabin is pretty generic to the action movie, but that works since it’s a fairly generic action movie. Some of the music cues have a definite touch of “Die Hard” though that may be the entire film trying for “Die Hard” overtones. Not a bad sound transfer at all, good for the format and nice for the Blu-ray release. In addition to the English DTS-HD track there are French, Portugese or Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks as well as English for the hearing impaired, Spanish, Portuguese, Cantonese, Korean, French and Mandarin subtitles.

Extras

This 2-disc edition has a good amount of special features, including two versions of the film, two alternate endings, sixteen featurettes, two audio commentaries, a gag reel, bonus trailers and a digital copy of the film.

DISC ONE:

The "Extreme" cut of the film runs 1 hour 49 minutes and 39 seconds, just under 2 minutes longer than the "Theatrical" cut, which runs 1 hour 47 minutes and 56 seconds.

First of the audio commentaries (both of which are only available on the "Extreme" cut) is with director Renny Harlin, which shows where much of the taking the movie too seriously comes from. He gives himself a fair amount of credit in putting the film together to the current state it’s in, including moving the production location to New Orleans from Chicago or other plot and story items. Technically, he talks about his use of handicams and why he directed some scenes the way he did, though it gets a bit repetitive in how he glorifies the ‘realness’ of hand held action directing. Not a bad commentary, though there are many gaps and repetitive bits of information that make me loose interest too often.

The second audio commentary is with screenwriter Daniel Kunka and actor John Cena, which is far more conversational and less serious, joking about Cena’s wrestling career and the plots he’s involved in at the time, while Kunka talks about putting together the movie. There’s a fair amount of information overlap when it comes to the technical details but is more lively, even with a few breaks in-between, and talks more about the experience of working with the different actors. Lots of praise being thrown around for everyone involved in the film, but the more engaging banter keeps me more interested despite the pauses. Like the movie, the best parts are the quick action sequences that are strung together throughout the film, each round bringing some good bits of information or stories about why they chose to fight or write the scenes they did.

The first of many featurettes is “Streetcar Crossing: Film With Caution” which runs for 16 minutes and 27 seconds. This featurette talks with Harlin, Cena and the other major players in the film in how they put together they put together the unstoppable streetcar scene. Lots of praise is given to the city police and government in helping them organize the stunt together. I really like how the clip is almost entirely behind-the-scenes, from the very technical storyboarding of toy cars on butcher paper with a map of the scene that they run through on set, as well as the vehicle choreography that went down and the stunts of the actors umping around the trolleycar and cars. A good action featurette that goes behind the scenes day by day in making the sequence.

“A Crash Course: John Cena Stunts” featurette runs for 9 minutes and 51 seconds, and again looks into the action sequences, but focusing on the stunt driving throught the film. Again the featurette makes great use of behind-the-scenes stills and footage as well as interviews, looking at all the stunts that Cena performs himself. It covers his learning how to become a stunt driver, giving me more respect to the film and Cena for going through the trouble of learning the tricks of practical effects for many of the stunts that go down in the film.

“Never-Before-Cena" gag reel runs for 4 minutes and 50 seconds and is a very generic gag reel, with a threw interviews thrown in and an awesomely bad pun for the title.

“Keeping Score: The Music of 12 Rounds” runs for 3 minutes and 16 seconds. This featurette goes behind-the-scenes of Rabin’s scoring process and how the film’s score was used in the film. There’s some nice scoring session footage with the orchestra and interviews with the major players of the film as well to make for a fuller featurette. Nice, brief, and effective clip.

“Round and Round with Renny and John” featurette runs for 4 minutes and 5 seconds is a little conversation between director and star. One of the less informative featurettes, but has nice banter between the two where they spend a lot of the time praising each other almost like one short promo spot for the film. Not a bad featurette, with some comedy between the two.

Next are the “Bonus Round” series of featurettes that serves as a loosely connected making-of for the film. There are twelve featurettes in all, playable together for 20 minutes and 22 seconds, or individually as described below:

- “Beyond the Scribble” this clip runs 1 minute and 23 seconds, and looks at the little page of scribbling ideas that lead to the formation of the movie.
- “Trigger Happy” runs for 1 minute and 14 seconds, and looks at the weapons training Cena went to through for the film.
- “Driver’s Ed with Cena” 1 minute and 51 seconds , Cena talks about the different cars he gets to drive in stunts for the film, going around the stunt training range seen earlier.
- “That’s Renny’s Storyboard… and He’s Sticking to it” runs for 1 minute and 24 seconds, Harlin and others talk about the huge amount of storyboards he put together for the film, showing some side-by-side comparisons with the film and the boards.
- “The Climb-matic Scene” runs for 1 minute and 16 seconds, looks at the camera work within the crane in one of the opening scenes for the film.
- “Beemer Meets Boat” runs for 2 minutes and 8 seconds, covering the stunt where the BMW crashes through a boat.
- “Dog-Gone Good Actor” runs for 1 minute and 28 seconds, Harlin talks about his instance on getting a dog for the film.
- “Shoot and Destroy”runs for 2 minutes and 6 seconds, this section looks at the different stunt cameras they used in the film and how many of them got destroyed in the filming process.
- “Mighty Microphone” runs for 1 minute and 26 seconds, this featurette just looks at Harlin’s microphone that he has wired through a sound system that he uses to direct the film.
- “Slapstick Sprinters” runs for 2 minutes and 2 seconds, Cena and Menendez debate about who’s the faster runner using the trolley car scene as evidence.
- “Flight Fight” runs for 2 minutes and 24 seconds, this covers the final fight within the helicopter.
- “Kiss and Tell” runs for 1 minute and 40 seconds, this final segment covers the kisses in the film.

Next are the two alternate endings, with optional audio commentary by either director Renny Harlin, actor John Cena and screenwriter Daniel Kunka, they are:

- “You Just Won the Lotto” runs for 59 seconds, Fisher leaves the money to a kid on the top of the hotel, Harlin talks about cutting the scene, Cena and Kunka joke about the actor appearing in the scene and why Fisher doesn’t take the money.
- “We Just Got Engaged” runs for 59 seconds, happening just after the previous scene (or instead of) where the couple bump into a recently engaged couple in a hot tub. Harlin talks about the scene was just a little too much, Cena and Kunka they talk about how it’s cheesy but they liked it.

Finally are the two viral videos made to promote the film, running 3 minutes and 41 seconds together and include:

- “Hands” runs for 2 minutes and 45 seconds, Cena has trouble with the phone, a fake hand model is green screened into the movie to attempted comical effect.
- “Helicopter” runs for 56 seconds, Cena’s fictional PA, played by Trevor Moore, is blown up in a helicopter.

Bonus trailers are for:

- “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” runs for 2 minutes and 20 seconds.
- “Dragonball Evolution” runs for 1 minute and 48 seconds.
- “Street Figher: The Legend of Chun-Li” runs for 1 minute and 13 seconds.
- “The Marine 2” runs for 38 seconds.

DISC TWO:

This is simply a digital copy of the film.

Overall

The Film: B- Video: A- Audio: A- Extras: B+ Overall: B+

 


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