Miles Jackson is a charming Irish sociopath. Besides being guilty of arms trafficking and terrorism, the devilish chap even decapitated his own brother. Now he's on the lam in the Big Easy with FBI agents hard on his tail.
Jackson deftly dodges the Feds. But not rookie New Orleans policeman Danny Fisher and his partner, Hank. With a little luck and a dash of daring, Danny and Hank corner the criminal and his girlfriend, Erica. They manage to cuff Jackson. But Erica becomes collateral damage when she inadvertently steps in front of a fast-moving truck.
Fast-forward 12 months.
After escaping from prison, Jackson kidnaps Danny's girlfriend, Molly, on the anniversary of Erica's death. To exact his revenge, the Irishman has devised what he dubs "12 Rounds" of virtually impossible games that Fisher—now a detective—must complete if he hopes to get Molly back alive.
With Hank's help, and the dubious support of hard-nosed FBI agent George Aikin, Danny rushes from one impossible task to another in order to save Molly and to spare New Orleans from more carnage.
Because for Miles Jackson, revenge is a dish best served on a citywide scale.
It goes without saying—but we'll say it anyway—that Danny will do virtually anything to save Molly. He also goes to considerable lengths to save the lives of innocent civilians who repeatedly get caught in the crossfire. Hank dutifully supports Danny, also putting his life on the line. When Danny considers other personal targets Jackson might pursue, he instructs his brother to go to their mother's home and to make sure that she's safe. Despite his hero status, Danny still struggles with his promotion to detective for capturing Jackson because the criminal's girlfriend lost her life in the process.
Aikin is initially concerned about one thing: capturing Miles Jackson. Whether Molly dies or other bystanders lose their lives seems of little concern to him. But Ray Santiago, a conscientious junior FBI officer, strongly disagrees with his superior's willingness to apprehend Jackson at any cost. And Aikin eventually acknowledges that his reckless pursuit of Jackson isn't the appropriate way to go about things. We also learn that he's haunted by the fact that he botched a previous case involving Jackson that resulted in the deaths of a plane full of people.
As the film begins, Danny and Molly have just moved in together. They joke about the possibility of a quick sexual encounter. A year later, they've still cohabiting. Molly wears a tight shirt for most of the film. She appears in a nightshirt in a brief scene early on.
Hank has a reputation as a womanizer, and we hear that he's bedded scores of women through the years. He makes fun of Danny's commitment to Molly, usually in bars where there are lots of other women for him to ogle, point out or hit on. While on duty, Hank flirts with a woman he's pulled over and compromises his professional integrity further by giving her a business card and asking her to call him later.
Miles says he enjoyed spying on Molly while she was taking a shower and makes a comment about playing "naked Twister." Two couples kiss passionately. A woman fleeing a burning hotel wears a revealing swimming suit. A couple is seen in a hot tub (he's wearing trunks, she's wearing a bikini). A character is jokingly said to have been neutered.
Once the action gets underway, violence is nonstop—if not particularly explicit. Arguably the most graphic moment is when Erica gets hit by a truck. Lingering camera shots show her dead, bleeding body and face. We also glimpse Jackson brandishing a huge, bloody knife after he brutally stabs someone.
In terms of quantity, the movie's multiple car chases probably yield more damage than anything. Danny appropriates ("police business") a vintage Camaro at one point, and we see from the speedometer that he approaches 100 mph—on a sidewalk—as terrified pedestrians flee. Likewise, he recklessly weaves through traffic on many occasions, which predictably yields scores of accidents. One involves a fire truck that pulverizes parked vehicles and causes the pileup of quite a few more that are moving. Danny also pilots the fire truck through a small island-themed restaurant near a pier as its patrons scatter.
Danny tries to slow a runaway street car with the car he's driving, a tactic that ultimately fails. The streetcar plunges through a crowded marketplace before Danny cuts power to it by explosively crashing his car into the downtown power transformer. Danny also attempts several other daring maneuvers to rescue people, which involve hanging from a helicopter and boarding said street car.
Elsewhere, a man dies after an elevator plummets down a shaft. (We're spared witnessing the actual impact.) Numerous characters shoot or get shot. Danny's house and another building explode (killing several police officers). A helicopter blows up as it hovers over a building, killing one man and prompting other passengers to hurl themselves into a rooftop pool.
Molly is shown bound, gagged and held at gunpoint with a bomb strapped to her chest, and Jackson threatens to start cutting off her toes if the FBI continues to listen in on his cell phone calls to Danny. Jackson and Danny engage in hand-to-hand combat, brutally and repeatedly pummeling each other. Amid that melee, Jackson slices Danny with a scalpel. Molly hits and kicks the Irish baddie.
When George gets frustrated with Ray's questioning of his tactics, the superior agent pins the younger one against a wall and "asks" him to stop undermining his authority.
Drug and Alcohol Content
Several scenes take place in bars. We see Hank with a bottle of beer in his hand. A passerby smokes.
If you're looking for a thriller with nuanced character development, well, 12 Rounds isn't your film. Instead, director Renny Harlin (who helmed Die Hard 2, among other actioners) delivers what amounts to a never-ending chase scene as Danny Fisher and Co. frantically race this way and that across New Orleans.
Cue the explosions, car crashes and rogue street cars. And there's the predictably maniacal bad guy, of course, this time brandishing a mild Irish brogue.
So this is hardly a film that poses deep philosophical questions. But it does indirectly address one such quandary: Is saving a loved one's life ever more important than preserving the lives of others? Danny's apparent answer: "Uh ... that's a tough one."
Though he does save quite a few people—most notably a busload of commuters and the terrified tourists trapped on the street car—Danny endangers many more with his insane driving. Property damage and whiplash injuries multiply as he stubbornly plows through intersections and cars. Sometimes in a fire truck, no less.
Ultimately, 12 Rounds isn't designed as a vehicle to provoke introspective soul searching. It's pretty much exactly what you'd expect from a film featuring World Wrestling Entertainment star John Cena. Which is to say, it's a carbon copy attempt at injecting the Speed formula with even more high-octane action.
Cue the explosions, car crashes—oh wait, I already said that.