Directed by Joel Schumacher. Narrated by Kiefer Sutherland. Starring Chace Crawford, Emma Roberts, Rory Culkin, Philip Ettinger, Esti Ginzburg, Curtis Jackson, Billy Magnussen, Emily Meade, Charlie Saxton, Jermaine Crawford, Jeremy Allen White, Zoë Kravitz, Ellen Barkin. (2010, R, 93 min.)
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Aug. 6, 2010
As the movies would have it, out in California this summer the kids are all right. On Manhattan’s Upper East Side, however, the kids are definitely a handful. Like The Kids Are All Right, Schumacher’s film premiered at Sundance last January and received a boost from that pedigree. But there’s no getting around how dreadful Twelve is – how tone deaf it is to its young protagonists and how vapid its ersatz production design seems. The focus of this latest film by Schumacher (St. Elmo’s Fire, The Lost Boys, Batman & Robin) is the fame-obsessed young party-hoppers invented in then-17-year-old author Nick McDonell’s novel. The self-absorbed teens of Twelve appear to be the spiritual godchildren of Bret Easton Ellis (Less Than Zero) and Larry Clark (Kids). Back from their elite private schools on spring break, these characters enact their stylized dramas over the course of one weekend. In an even earlier decade, they would have been the sort of prep-school “phonies” despised by Holden Caulfield. Now they are social climbers who harbor little more ambition than a mention in the “Page Six” gossip column. The unflattering light in which Schumacher casts his characters extends only to their emotional realms; their physical images are always dappled and stunning. Gossip Girl’s Chace Crawford is White Mike, the story’s central figure. After his mother’s death from cancer, White Mike becomes a drug dealer instead of going to college. He’s good at his job, but he broods a lot and is unwilling to deal the new fictional drug called twelve, which appears to be instantly addictive. Twelve is dealt by Lionel (Jackson, aka 50 Cent), who doesn’t brood. (And the craziest stand-alone scene comes when new twelve devotee Jessica (Meade) trips out to her vast collection of stuffed bears inciting her to commit murder.) White Mike’s scruples keep him from seeing or admitting the truth about his activities to Molly (Roberts), the girl who has loved him since childhood. He feels she’s too good for him. All throughout the film, a gravelly voiced omniscient narrator (Schumacher regular Sutherland) intones facts and details about the various characters, who come and go with interchangeable regularity. Most of what we learn about them derives from his narration, rather than anything they say or do. The story builds to a violent crescendo that would be shocking were it not obvious that it was inevitable. (To paraphrase Chekhov, if you introduce a sword in the first act, it’s bound to smite others by the third.) Twelve is the initial release by the new distribution company Hanover House, and I don’t predict a healthy start for the fledgling company. Furthermore, the advertisements touting the film as a contemporary Less Than Zero make ridicule too easy: Twelve is so much less than zero.