REVIEW: Ridiculous Twelve Overdoses on Utter Vapidity
For a film meant to delve into the experience of being young, rich, and messed up in New York City, Twelve rarely lets its subjects open their mouths. Instead it plays like the filmstrip an anthropology student from Zambia might make about Upper East Side teenagers after a semester of research involving nothing but episodes of Dragnet and Gossip Girl. And maybe The Rules of Attraction, the atrocious 2002 adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis's novel of the same name. Over-narrated by Kiefer Sutherland in full "this is extremely important and also very, very cool" mode, from its first self-important minutes Twelve seems as if it can't possibly be serious. Would that it were not.
"White Mike" (Chace Crawford) is the young drug dealer at the center of the film, the nexus through which all of its dysfunction flows. He's not called White Mike because he deals cocaine -- in fact he sticks to pot, which makes the air of trenchcoat intrigue built around him seem a little quaint. I think my grandmother can buy pot from her local chemist. No, he's called White Mike (and called it often) because he's so goddamned white, perhaps the one aspect of the character that Crawford nails. He's practically fluorescent when standing beside Lionel (Curtis Jackson), his colleague on the other side of the gateway. Lionel deals the hard stuff, particularly a new drug called 12, a liquid hybrid of coke and ecstasy that really hits the spot after a hard day of shopping.
White Mike recently lost his mother to cancer, something we learn about -- as with almost everything else -- through the narration, with several scenes taking place in an imaginative middle ground that features a stark white background and even drippier dialogue than usual. When remembering the trips he used to take to the Central Park Zoo with his nanny and best friends Hunter (Philip Ettinger) and Charlie (Jeremy Allen White), White Mike compares being a dealer with being a nanny -- both are caretaking roles that require one to move in and out of other people's lives like a benevolent ghost.
Except that nannies generally get fired for killing their charges; for dealers, casualties are part of the bargain. Two people are dead within the first half hour of Twelve, with plenty more to come. Adapted from Nick McDonell's 2005 novel (McDonell was 17 when it was published), Twelve goes way over the top as a cautionary tale, something that might have worked had elements of satire, or character, or any clear, distinguishing voice whatsoever been allowed into play.
Director Joel Schumacher, a long way from The Lost Boys or even St. Elmo's Fire, presents a canvas of modern, privileged youth that is dour, cartoonishly dull, and almost without redemption. We are told exactly what to think about disposable characters like Sara Ludlow (Esti Ginburg), the golden girl who speaks in Hilton-ese, a form of froggy baby-talk native to blonde heiresses; Jessica (Emily Meade), a Type-A perfectionist who goes from zero to crack whore in under a week; and Claude (Billy Magnussen), a violent screw-up with a serious mommy grudge. "It's all about want; nobody needs anything here," Kiefer growls, a portentous and perfectly empty mission statement for this embarrassment of anhedonic riches.
To begin with they all need parents, and badly. Ellen Barkin swans through a couple of scenes radiating distance and demand; the other parental figures are generally corrupted wrecks. Claude's little brother Chris (Rory Culkin) and White Mike's sheltered crush Molly (Emma Roberts) are the only characters who manage something close to a recognizable personality, perhaps because they are the only two who can face themselves. All of the players convene at a decadent birthday party being thrown for Sara, and the utter vapidity -- which never started being titillating, shocking, or amusing -- reaches a crescendo that explodes into violence.
"Why do you do it?" a disillusioned Molly asks White Mike, after the dust settles, the bodies are counted, and several sub-plots are left swinging in the breeze. "There's no reason," he replies, a nihilistic battle cry that, even before it escapes his perfect lips, gets sucked into the very real vacuum of boredom created by this silly movie.