One wrong move may take the match closer to a deadly conclusion in the high-speed action flick “12 Rounds” starring John Cena and directed by Renny Harlin who stirred worldwide audience through his work in “Cliffhanger,” “Die Hard 2,” “The Covenant,” “Deep Blue Sea” and “Exorcist: The Beginning.”
“12 Rounds” kicks off when Danny Fisher (Cena) stops a brilliant thief, Miles (Aidan Gillen), from getting away with a multi-million-dollar heist, the thief’s girlfriend is accidentally killed. After escaping from prison, the criminal mastermind enacts his revenge, taunting Danny with a series of near-impossible puzzles and tasks …12 rounds…that Danny must somehow complete to save the life of his fiancée, Molly (Ashley Scott).
Cena’s involvement with the movie began when the script was still very much a work in progress. Producer McLaughlin got a call from Cena’s agent for a meet-and-greet. After a few minutes, they were chatting like old friends. “I thought, ‘Boy, this guy’s got something,’” McLaughlin recalls. “On top of being really charismatic, he was Danny.”
Earlier, McLaughlin and first-time screenwriter Daniel Kunka began the task of trying to reinvent the action film genre for today’s audiences. “We wondered how to make a movie that is that sort of contained, high-concept, idea,” says McLaughlin. “The answer, we thought, was to make it as plausible as possible. Then, Daniel came up with the idea about a guy who has to keep doing these tasks that were both Herculean and real.”
With Cena onboard and a green light from the studio, all that was needed was a director who could capture the frenetic nature of the script – a contemporary action auteur with an appetite for harrowing realism. Enter action thriller filmmaker Renny Harlin, whose deft sense of tempo, pace, and narrative momentum made him “the perfect director for the job.” To Harlin, the film was an opportunity to reinvent the genre. “I’d like to think of 12 Rounds as a movie that started a new style of action movies, the sort of ‘Docu-Realism’ commando style shooting of action movies, instead of super-polished, glossy, Hollywood-fantasy fare. We gave the film a real down and dirty feel, which better reflects the tenor of pop culture.”
For “12 Rounds’” thrilling action sequences, Harlin wanted to break with the traditional style of filmmaking associated with his earlier films. “I wanted this film to have a visual style that complemented John’s athleticism. Think of 12 Rounds as a real story that’s really happening, and what we’ve just done is taken three documentary crews and thrown them out there and let them start chasing these actors and get the story on film.”
“I told the actors, starting with John Cena, that this is not like the usual Hollywood way of making films, where you rehearse a scene, and then you mark with tape everybody’s steps on the ground, and where they deliver their lines, and how they turn this way and that way,” Harlin continues. “I said, ‘We might rehearse it, but we’re going to basically just shoot it, and you guys have freedom to do whatever you want to do. Just go, just live it, just make it real. We’re going to get the shots as if we were in a combat zone.”
The guerilla-style filmmaking included mixing different media and cameras, including mini-DV cameras and even camera-phones. “We employed different ways of telling the story visually, including video surveillance footage and aerial footage,” says director of photography David Boyd. “We packed it all in to make 12 Rounds relentless and gritty, from beginning to end.”
Harlin’s quest for authenticity was infectious on the set. Throughout production, Cena volunteered to do many of his own stunts, including racing cars, running the equivalent of several 10K races, crashing a fire truck, and simulating a gunfight; the latter had him training with the New Orleans Police Department. “The training officer literally put him through the entire course that qualifies you for SWAT,” stunt coordinator Steve Ritzi says, marveling at Cena’s gun handling ability. “John scored such high marks that he could’ve joined the police force if he wanted to.”
High-octane action blasts to theaters on March 25 when “12 Rounds” opens in theaters nationwide from 20th Century Fox to be distributed by Warner Bros.