Cena fights himself in '12 Rounds'
As one of the WWE's marquee pro wrestlers, John Cena is some actor. As a straight actor . . . he's a great wrestler.
In "12 Rounds," his second feature showcase, Cena plays Danny Fisher, a stiff-as-a-corner-post New Orleans police detective who heroically nabs elusive arms dealer Miles Jackson (a scruffed-up Aidan Gillen of "The Wire"), and inadvertently gets Miles's girl killed in the process.
Time for a revenge game cribbed right from the "Die Hard" series (and directed, hardly coincidentally, by Renny Harlin, who's an awfully long way from "Die Hard 2" and "Cliffhanger" here). The seething-but-rascally Miles resurfaces, bombs Danny's house, abducts his girlfriend (Ashley Scott, "Jericho"), and engages him in a 12-round battle of wits to solve various riddles before nasty, explosive things happen around the city. (Hard to figure why they went with a boxing format when their star is a wrestler, but let's not overthink.)
Harlin is experienced enough to keep the story barreling along through such dopiness as Danny giving a bomb-strapped hostage a beefy sympathy hug. The director also does a fair job of avoiding French Quarter visual cliches and shooting New Orleans as a post-Katrina working city, although photo-essay shots of local residents looking thoroughly unimpressed make for some unintentional smirks.
Cena handles the rough stuff capably - there's a decent bit where he loses his gun and muscularly improvises by shoving a trailered boat in Miles's path - but don't look for any knowing action-hero twinkles. Whether it's shellshock, righteous fury, or a token domestic scene, Cena plays it all the same way: flat as his abs. Danny, on seeing his partner's bullet wound to the backside: "Keep pressure on it."
Steve Harris, as a fed bitterly thwarted by Miles's slipperiness, at least knows how to let loose on the deficient script. Whether he's channeling Ahab with his scowl, or thinking, "David E. Kelley, where's the love these days?," he's the movie's one slightly elevating presence.