By Robert Solomon
When creating art of any sort, the worst reaction is no reaction at all. Whether it inspires deeply felt love or equally permeating hatred, the enlightened artist drinks both as deeply as Daniel Plainview of There Will Be Blood drinks your milkshake.
John Cena, for all of his lack of wrestling talent, understands this better than most, and certainly more than anyone would dare give him credit for. His unwavering patriotism and babyface (good) routine are an aberration in today’s WWE, where the fictional lines between good and evil have been completely erased since the “attitude” era of Stone Cold Steve Austin and The Rock in the ‘90s.
Even Hulk Hogan, the logical template for Cena’s persona, turned heel (evil) in the ‘90s to adapt to the changing market. In the ‘80s, Hogan was every bit the patriotic hero Cena is today.
Naturally, the wrestling fans who have grown to love this moral slipperiness hate Cena with every fiber of their being, even as the younger fans love him for his earnestness. This is what a great artist is supposed to do! It also turns out to be the key to Cena’s success as an action hero in 12 Rounds, as his ‘80s-style wrestling persona turns out to be just what this kind of movie needs.
12 Rounds is one of the best ‘80s-era action movies in a long time, everything the boring Street Fighter should have been. Do not expect any new narrative ground to be broken; 12 Rounds is a complete rip-off of Speed. One can certainly borrow from worse, and Cena certainly did himself a favor by taking on a Keanu Reeves role, but that bar is not a high one to clear.
Like Speed’s use of Los Angeles streets, a legitimate success of 12 Rounds is its usage of the city of New Orleans. This location is exploited to the fullest, from the ferry to the streetcars, all playing a part in the increasingly ludicrous action scenarios, capped off by Danny Fisher (Cena) trying to stop a runaway New Orleans streetcar with his own car.
Perhaps your disbelief remains. Allow me to illustrate a sequence of events. Skip the next two paragraphs if you wish to remain “pure.”
Fisher tries to stop the runaway streetcar with his own car by applying the brakes. When this does not work he kicks out the front window, climbing onto the roof of the streetcar in an attempt to cut the power.
When this action fails, Fisher then sends his car careening into a power relay station, killing power in the entire area to stop the streetcar, which (of course) is barreling towards a street festival that is blissfully unaware of the impending doom hurtling upon them. The streetcar is stopped just in time, but not before it knocks over an ice cream truck.
Now, if any of you read that paragraph anyway and are screaming “Spoiler!” then you obviously have never seen a film of this type before–an ‘80s-era action movie that never surprises you with the outcome.
Thus, it is incumbent upon you to make the effort to educate yourself in this spectacular genre. I would suggest Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Commando. Having seen this, your mind will be in the right place to appreciate the genius of 12 Rounds.