12 Rounds -- Film Review

NEW YORK -- In "12 Rounds," a fortuitous confluence of luck and pluck allows lowly New Orleans beat cop Danny Fisher (John Cena) to arrest infernally clever Irish arms dealer Miles Jackson (Aiden Gillen), who's been leading the FBI a merry chase for three years. It's a shame Miles' daredevil girlfriend died in the process, but it was more Miles' fault than Danny's: If Miles hadn't told her to run, she wouldn't have been pasted by that oncoming car.

That is not, of course, how Miles sees it. By the time he breaks out of a jail a year later, he's masterminded a diabolical plan to make Danny, now a detective, pay ... and pay and pay some more.

Miles blows up Danny's house and car, kidnaps his lovely girlfriend, Molly (Ashley Scott), and orchestrates an escalating series of tests and puzzles via taunting cell phone calls. If Danny can survive 12 rounds of the game, Miles promises to let Molly live. If Danny fails, it's an "eye for an eye" time and Molly dies.

Danny has the enthusiastic support of his partner and best friend (Brian White) and the self-serving assistance of an FBI team led by arrogant agent George Aiken (Steve Harris), who's still steamed over having lost the opportunity to collar Miles himself.

Daniel Kunka's script delivers plot twists galore, but the film's adrenaline-injected action set pieces trump narrative logic every time. Director Renny Harlin, who once presided over such major studio event-pictures as "Die Hard 2" and "Cliffhanger," knows how to wrangle screaming fire engines, cop cars and helicopters, so any scene involving criminally reckless driving on crowded city streets or theft and destruction of private and public property crackles. Character development, however, has never been Harlin's strong suit, so the cast is left to fend for itself.

Irish actor Gillen, who suggests a curious mix of Richard Gere and Gary Oldman, brings a devious sparkle to smirking sociopath Miles, who seems on the verge of breaking into a wee jig every time he sets Danny another apparently impossible task. If Cena were half as charismatic, Danny and Miles' turbo-charged cat-and-mouse game would be a real blast. But Cena is no Jason Statham. His stolid seriousness sucks the life right out of any scene in which he's required to speak. It's a bad sign when you repeatedly wish a runaway trolley would silence the hero.

Opened: Friday, March 27 (Fox)