WWE Studios, the company’s film division, faces an uncertain future after nearly a decade of mixed and middling results.
Oh, sure, they’ve churned out a few hits over the years, notably the popular Marine franchise—both the original and its sequel made money—but the division has also suffered losses, with heavily promoted films like The Condemned, The Chaperone and Knucklehead sinking without a trace at the box office.
Things have gotten so dire owner Vince McMahon even claimed in a stockholders' meeting earlier this year that if WWE Studios didn’t turn around its performance soon they intended to “get out of the film business.” Knowing the notoriously stubborn chairman, things must be really awful if he's on the verge of admitting failure on his long-held movie aspirations.
One hope is the company’s most recent three-movie deal with 20th Century Fox Entertainment will reap financial rewards. Hey, it’s worth a shot. And on paper it appears to be a solid business plan: Per the deal, WWE will use their highly watched television shows to promote the straight-to-DVD features, while Fox will handle distribution.
12 Rounds: Reloaded, starring Randy Orton, is the second film to be produced under this deal. The film, which is a sequel to the 2009 action-thriller12 Rounds, will be directed by veteran filmmaker Roel Reine (he also worked on The Marine 2) and co-stars Canadian actress Cindy Busby.
Orton will play Nick Malloy, an EMT with a troubled past who finds himself targeted by a criminal genius and forced to compete in—shocker—12 highly dangerous tasks if he wants to get his kidnapped wife back (has there ever been a WWE movie where someone’s wife didn’t get abducted?).
Reine has noted on his official Twitter that the film is due out next summer.
Interestingly, Orton was initially meant to star in The Marine: Homefront (the first film in the Fox deal) until members of the real-life United States Marine Core complained, citing Orton’s bad conduct discharge from the USMC in 1999 as rendering him unfit for the role. WWE, admitting they had shown “poor judgement” in a press release, then pulled him from the movie and replaced him with Mike “The Miz” Mizanin.
Presumably his part in 12 Rounds: Reloaded was the company’s way to appease Orton—he did seem to be particularly irate at his dismissal from The Marine: Homefront, even taking some childish digs on Twitter against one of the officers who’d complained.
But is Orton the right guy to star in a WWE Studios movie?
Well, the initial answer looks to be—yes.
(Barring some shock revelation that Orton has a complicated employment history with the Emergency Medical Services, of course.)
He’s one of the company’s most popular babyfaces after all, meaning fans may be more likely to check out a movie featuring him in a leading role. And unlike someone like, say, Triple H and his numerous (and usually mediocre) film parts, there is still a great deal of novelty in the idea of Orton being in a film. People may check out 12 Rounds: Reloaded for the curiosity factor if nothing else.
So, if anyone is going to convince members of the WWE Universe—long weary of the company’s movie division and the heavy, seemingly endless amount of promotion and hype the films receive on Raw and SmackDown—to purchase a WWE film, it may as well be a popular, relevant star like Orton who has yet to be over-exposed in movies.
He also has the good looks and charisma to potentially use this movie as a platform to be the next wrestler-turned-actor mainstream star in the vein of Steve Austin or Stacy Keibler. Promoted and used correctly, Orton could be the first wrestler who manages to have his star power actually enhanced by being in a WWE film.
Of course, one potential hindrance may be his lack of acting skills.
Frankly, Orton isn’t that good or convincing an actor—often coming off as wooden as a plank—as many of his backstage scenes show. This 2010 segment with John Morrison being particularly atrocious (what acting coach told Orton it was a good idea to never directly look at the person he was meant to be talking to?).
Heck, and who can forget his (notorious) line from his part in coming-of-age drama That’s What I Am, “I’ll go to the papers, if I have to”. That one was so badly delivered and wholly unconvincing it became a semi-famous Internet meme for a while.
However it remains to be seen whether Orton's patchy acting ability will pose a problem.
After all, it’s not like top quality acting skills have ever mattered much one way or another in the straight-to-DVD action movie genre (Steven Seagal anyone?); fans simply don’t buy these types of movies for their great thespian performances or complex, multi-layered plots. Mostly, they just want mindless action, larger-than-life characters and big explosions, with the odd one-liner thrown in for good measure. As long as 12 Rounds: Reloaded ticks all the right boxes, it should satisfy its audience.
In summation, we will have to wait and see whether 12 Rounds: Reloaded performs well when it’s released next year. It may be a hit with DVD audiences, or, in spite of the promising new Fox deal, it may flop badly like so many WWE films before it. But, if nothing else, they’ve managed to pick a leading man who will garner the feature a significant amount of hype and interest.