12 Rounds

In 2006, professional wrestler John Cena starred in “The Marine,” playing a man who must rescue his kidnapped wife. His acting muscles sufficiently stretched, he now returns to cinemas in “12 Rounds,” playing a man who must rescue his kidnapped girlfriend. Watch for the third part of the John Cena trilogy in 2012, when he’ll have to rescue his kidnapped fiancee!

Cena plays a New Orleans uniform cop named Danny Fisher. In the opening sequence, he can’t find his badge and then has his gun stolen by a dog, and I’m not making that up. But he manages to arrest an Irish terrorist named Miles Jackson (Aidan Gillen), so that gets him promoted to detective. Unfortunately, Jackson’s girlfriend and accomplice died in the skirmish, and now, a year later, Jackson has broken out of prison to exact his revenge on Danny Fisher.

Having abducted Fisher’s girlfriend, Molly (Ashley Scott), Jackson reveals the terms of his little game. Fisher will have to complete 12 tasks: get to this bank by this time, pull out this safety deposit box before it explodes, stop that runaway streetcar from killing everyone onboard, etc. If he successfully completes the 12 rounds, he’ll get his precious girlfriend back. What’s in it for Jackson? Mere amusement, it would seem, though it turns out later that it’s all part of a bigger plan. A bigger, dumber plan.

Fisher is aided by a faithful partner (Brian White) and sometimes aided, sometimes hindered by a pair of FBI agents (Steve Harris and Gonzalo Menendez) who knew about Jackson’s escape from prison a couple weeks ago but didn’t think to tell the cop who arrested him. Jackson, meanwhile, is aided by three things: extraordinary coincidences, luck, and an accomplice who always manages to be in exactly the right place at exactly the right time.

Fisher is the kind of impulsive hothead who makes Jack Bauer look like Calvin Coolidge. He’s a cop who will commandeer a civilian’s vehicle and drive it across sidewalks and lawns, then take a fire truck on a high-speed chase through New Orleans, causing millions of dollars in collateral damage along the way like a one-man Katrina. To cut the electrical supply to a runaway streetcar, he drives an automobile directly into the power plant. This is necessary because when he and one of the FBI agents called the power company to have them shut it down, they got put on hold — which is pretty realistic, actually, except that every OTHER time they need something in a hurry in this movie, they’re able to get it by making one phone call. This includes learning where Jackson’s girlfriend is buried. FBI dude makes one call to goodness-knows-whom and immediately learns the name of the cemetery and probably the plot number.

My favorite example of Fisher’s (and the movie’s) idiocy is when he and his fireman brother (Kyle Clements) are on the 10th floor of a bank building and receive word of Jackson’s next nefarious plot. Fisher has only seven minutes to get across town, so every second counts. He decides this means there’s no time to run down 10 flights of stairs — he has to get down faster! So he secures one end of a long cable, throws the other end through the window, and slides down. But in the time it takes him to set this up, borrow gloves from his brother, convince his brother that this isn’t a stupid idea, slide down the cable, realize it’s not long enough, drop the last few stories onto conveniently placed scaffolding, and finally arrive at street level shaken but unharmed — well, in that time, the 10 flights have stairs could have been descended by an elderly woman, let alone a robust professional wrestler.

“12 Rounds” is dumb even by the standards of dumb action movies. As directed by Renny Harlin (“Die Hard 2,” “The Covenant”), with his characteristic disregard for common sense, it feels like it was written by high school students who have watched “Die Hard” a lot. (It was actually written by a first-time screenwriter named Daniel Kunka, who, for all I know, could be a high school student who has watched “Die Hard” a lot.) Arbitrary deadlines and timers counting down to zero figure heavily into the plot as a means of inflating the suspense. Sometimes there doesn’t even have to be a deadline — Fisher just makes one up. “If we don’t stop that ferry in the next 30 seconds, I’ll never see Molly again!” he declares, pulling the “30 seconds” figure out of thin air like a drama queen.

On the other hand, the gimmicky games Jackson imposes on Fisher provide a constant diversion and prevent the film from getting stale. Imbecilic, yes. Implausible, definitely. The “MacGruber” bits on “Saturday Night Live” are more realistic, and at least they’re intentionally funny. But boring? Never.

Note: Contrary to regular industry practice, this film was not screened for critics before opening.

D (1 hr., 48 min.; PG-13, moderate profanity and violence -- lots of mayhem but very little blood.)