The Condemned was the first bomb for WWE Films and rightfully so, it sucked. Going back to the drawing board they chose to do what was most successful for them and went with a more straight up action movie starring John Cena. Not only that but they got honest to goodness talent in Aiden Gillen (fresh off The Wire) as the villain and Renny Harlin (Deep Blue Sea, Die Hard 2) to direct. Sure it’s no Coen brothers production but compared to past films this is Scorsese and DiCaprio. And while names don’t mean it will be a good movie it is a bit promising. At the very least decent and at this point that’s all I can really hope for. Will 12 Rounds fire on all cylinders or will it be full of blanks? Time to find out.
Wrestler- John Cena
Wrestling Moves Used- 0
Real Stars- Aidan Gillen
When New Orleans cop Danny Fisher (John Cena) stops master thief Miles Jackson (Aidan Gillen) from pulling off a heist Jackson’s girlfriend is accidentally killed. Breaking out of prison Jackson kidnaps Fisher’s fiancé and sets up a game of ’12 Rounds’ where Fisher must figure out a group of puzzles and physical tasks. Basically it’s Die Hard: With A Vengeance.
Oh man was I wrong about this one. As mentioned I had some higher than usual expectations. Sure I wasn’t asking for a new Raid but higher nevertheless. It turns out they were way too high. To put it frankly the whole thing is a slog to get through. Which is odd since it is directed by veteran director Renny Harlin. While not the most prestigious filmmaker he has a solid resume including Die Hard 2, Prison and The Long Kiss Goodnight. Which shows since, of the movies so far, it’s probably the most professional looking. All the action looks good and is filmed competently. Despite this the movie is so boring. A big factor for this is that the movie is mostly chase scenes. Sometimes on foot, sometimes in a car, nothing but chases. Sure that works for the Fast & Furious movies but there is one key difference, the Fast chase scenes are exciting. At most we get a car crashing into another or driving on the sidewalk. Heck you have someone who literally pretend fights for a living. Someone who is, all things considered, pretty good at it. So how you go the whole time without a fight scene is beyond me. I can’t stress enough how much of a slog this can be to get through.
Now this could be saved if the villain were good. In fact I would be okay with just fine. Sadly what we get is Miles Jackson. Portrayed by Aidan Gillen he is supposedly a genius terrorist. This is never really shown. The closest we really get is him interrupting a game of chess and orchestrating his escape in the beginning. After that it is a series of extremely easy riddles. The best example comes midway through the movie where his clue is “Look for the lonely man” and it’s a picture of a man standing by himself. Dora the Explorer is more challenging than this. By the end the “rounds” are things Cena has no control over like his friend getting killed. By the end I was longing for the days of Robert Patrick in The Marine.
Speaking of which we had John Cena is the star and it doesn’t seem to having taken any acting lessons between movies. Despite having all the charisma in the world in the ring Cena is a total bore in this movie. Aside from raising his voice now and then or occasionally looking concerned he’s a blank slate. Not helping matters is the horrendous script. Written by Daniel Kunka his illustrious IMDB page reveals he has only written this movie and it’s easy to see why. Aside from Cena’s funny black partner nobody shows any personality or say anything of substance.
Needless to say this is a poor movie. The thing is it didn’t fill me with anger like The Condemned. It did something even worse really, it bored me. Despite being okay from a film making perspective the whole thing blends together and it becomes a sea of blandness. Now I can’t give this a straight up F because, as I said it is competently directed. But could I recommend this for any reason? Not in the least.
And with that the WWE ended their initial run of theatrical releases. While some movies would get miniscule, weekend long runs most WWE movies would be initially released on home video. I have mentioned before the pattern of sequels being better than the originals. It happened with The Marine, it happened with The Condemned and I would say See No Evil 2 is at least better made than the original. The other thing I have noticed is that there is a group of directors they seem to go to for their sequels. A stable of ringers and Direct-To-Video veterans they have gone back to repeatedly. The Soska Sisters if it’s horror, Scott Wiper if they want the movie to suck and Roel Reiné for action movies. While I have covered a couple of his movies his films this is actually his first movie with WWE films and it’s with WWE star Randy Orton. They were able to salvage an awful franchise with The Condemned 2. Will they be able to do that again or is was that pure luck? Time for me to find out.
12 Rounds 2: Reloaded
Wrestler- Randy Orton
Wrestling Moves Used- 1
Real Stars- Nobody but someone is named Jason Diablo which is boss.
Paramedic Nick Malloy face off a menace from his past. Setting him a game of 12 Rounds he has to solve a series of tasks and puzzles to save his wife. Basically it’s Die Hard: With A Vengeance but again.
Have to be honest I was pleasantly surprised by 12 Rounds 2: Reloaded. Proving himself to be the WWE Studios MVP director Roel Reiné was able to remake the first film but make it entertaining. When I say remake I mean that quite literally. It’s pretty much the first movie all over again with some minor changes that work out surprisingly well. The biggest of which being a supporting character named Tommy Weaver. Portrayed by actor Tom Stevens he is a party kid that gets paired with Nick Malloy through most of the movie. It turns out having someone react to what is going on as opposed to Orton’s mostly serious performance throughout. Not to mention Stevens’ overacting provides some much needed levity to the film.
I would certainly take the overacting over whatever it is Orton was doing. Whatever acting talent Orton displayed in The Condemned 2 is missing here in his first role. He come off as very stiff throughout the film with a lot of stilted line delivery. Much like Cena in the first movie the only time he would come off as natural was when he would give a sarcastic comment or point out how ridiculous the whole thing was. The only other highlight, and this is more the script, is that they let Orton fight in this movie. It’s mostly bland chase scenes but every once in a while they’ll let Orton fight and it’s perfectly acceptable direct-to-video fisticuffs. Bonus points for letting Orton give a cop a sidewalk slam onto his car.
If I have a problem it’s the actual rounds in this movie. Last time most of them consisted of “figure out this poorly constructed riddle.” It’s dumb but at least it is a challenge of some sort. We don’t even get that this time. At least 3 of the rounds are instructions to go somewhere. Or even worse when the 6th round was “deliver a lot of exposition and my tragic villain backstory.” A shame because I liked the villain here more. By taking keeping the revenge motivation it makes this whole, convoluted plan work in a way. I can buy someone kidnapping the governor and killing him with sugar (something that legit happens) because his wife died. Plus he sets people on fire and by god do I enjoy some old fashioned fire stunts.
And the streak continues! After a horrendous first entry the 12 Rounds series made a comeback under the direction of Roel Reiné. Keep in mind it’s not good by any means. 12 Rounds 2: Reloaded is still a bad movie. What made it better to me was by mixing up a few elements it was nowhere near as dull as its predecessor. I couldn’t recommend it but if were forced to watch it for some reason there are worst things to watch.
By the mid-2010’s WWE was struggling to find a new top star. While John Cena was still quite popular he isn’t getting any younger and those who would replace him would either leave the company (CM Punk) or have constant issues with injuries (Daniel Bryan). Enter The Shield. Debuting as mercenaries for a villainous CM Punk they would go on to be a major players at the top of the card. They got as popular as they could possibly get as a group before member Seth Rollins would break up the group with the biggest star coming out of the break up was Dean Ambrose. Now it’s hard for me to describe Dean Ambrose to those who don’t actually watch wrestling. He isn’t your traditional wrestler that’s ripped and in trunks. He wears jeans, a tank top and has a scraggly receding hairline. He’s a good brawler but occasionally does some goofy looking moves. Despite all of this he is absolutely compelling to watch. He has this weird average guy charisma that totally works for him. It is unlike any guy in the WWE today. The best way I can think to describe it is that he is what it would be like if your uncle were a wrestler and had a few too many beers. So in the midst of his biggest run in the company they decide to have him star in one of their movies. Would it be worth it or did the break just hinder his career? Time to find out.
12 Rounds 3: Lockdown
Wrestler- Dean Ambrose
Wrestling Moves Used- 3
Real Stars- Roger Cross who has apparently been in everything, does the guy from Dead Man on Campus count?
Back from leave Detective John Shaw discovers incriminating evidence on his fellow officers. Discovered the corrupt cops have the police station put into lock down. With only 12 rounds on him Shaw has to survive the night. Basically it’s the first Die Hard but with less Alan Rickman.
The first thing to note is the drastic change in the plot. No longer an elaborate game of cat and mouse (well what those intended to be anyway) it is a cop stuck in a single location. So yes it’s a Die Hard knock off but they knock off the best one. All things considered it works better but only marginally. With the single location there is no stupid puzzles which is great. Unfortunately the set we do get is pretty bland. Filled with office space at a certain point I had to question whether it was the same spot over and over again. The only other place we really see is the stairwell which Dean Ambrose runs up and down over and over. If there’s any constant in this series it’s impeccable cardio. The other major difference is from the first two is the type of action. While we do get a car chase at one point for the most part it is a shoot’em up, fighting affair. A nice change of pace from the endless chase scenes of its predecessors. While it has the shaky cam style of action to their credit it doesn’t get too bad about it. The scenes themselves are pretty pedestrian though. It’s not that they’re bad but fairly basic for direct-to-video fare. The only time it really stood out was the occasional crazy kill. Moments like Dean Ambrose using a taser to make a corpse squeeze a gun trigger or an amazingly awful grenade explosion are great. I just wish they went with this over the top stuff more.
Then there is our star Dean Ambrose as John Shaw. As far as the action he’s perfectly acceptable. Getting more into fights than the past few movies he shows himself to be a convincing screen fighter. We even get some wrestling moves like a chairshot which I absolutely popped for. I’m actually finding it a bit hard to judge his acting though. When it comes to straight up acting I don’t think he is that good. Not the worst mind you just not good. Just a bit too stiff for my liking. The thing is, and this may sound weird, he is good at reacting. The way he reacts to the action around him or his facial reactions are great. Probably the best I’ve seen so far. Even when it comes to one-liners his performance has a very Bruce Willis quality to it the other actors in the series have lacked. It’s just that everything in between where he flounders. He’s only really effective when he reacts to the other actors and they can be pretty iffy.
That may be a bit harsh. For the most part the cast gives fine, if fairly basic, performances. It’s more what they’re given to do that doesn’t work. For the most part the characters are various stock types. You have several stuntmen playing heavies, a guy playing the tech guy, the naive rookie cop, things like that. All with a varying degree of acting ability. The worst of this is the character Captain Matthews. While Rebecca Marshall is an okay actress her character is there solely to say some exposition before she betrays Shaw out of nowhere and is shot for no reason. It really does seem quite pointless. The only actor I can think of is Roger Cross as Tyler Burke. While Burke is your average corrupt cop he brings a sliminess and fake sincerity that nobody else displays.
If Roel Reiné is the reigning WWE Studios champion then director Stephen Reynolds might be the #1 Contender. He took what should have been a bad movie and made it, well, not as bad. All things considered it’s a low level direct-to-video movie with its standard script and relying more on a wrestler’s charisma rather than actual acting. Luckily with some decent directing and creative bursts in the script it turns out better than I was expecting. Certainly better than the past two movies.
And that is the end of the movie franchises done by WWE Studios. That’s far from the last of it though. In between Marine movies and movies with Kane masturbating (I really didn’t get into the awkwardness of See No Evil) WWE Studios released a ton of stand alone movies. That’s right movies that were so bad even WWE Studios didn’t think they were worth a sequel. Even worse they aren’t just action and horror movies including dramas and family friendly comedies. Unless things change I plan to cover the movies in batches based on genre, wrestler or, in the case of next month, theme. So join me next month for Wrestling is Reel- Future Endeavored Edition.