Though set in the Big Apple rather than California, Joel Schumacher’s adaptation of Nick McDonell’s novel clearly hails from Brett Easton Ellis territory; in fact, it has a lot in common with Gregor Jordan’s little-seen filmization of Ellis’ “The Informers.” And if there’s any justice in this drug-addled world, “Twelve” will share a similar fate and quickly drop into well-deserved obscurity.
The focus of the plot is on White Mike (Chace Crawford), a fellow whose restaurateur dad lost his business paying for his late wife’s treatment for breast cancer. Distraught over the loss of his mother, Mike dropped out of school and became a very successful drug dealer, pushing product for Harlem drug lord Lionel (Curtis Jackson)—though not the new liquid called twelve that’s described as a combination of cocaine and ecstasy.
But Mike’s just the epicenter of a large cast of brainless, over-privileged young folk who party, drink, medicate and fight over the course of a long weekend. There’s Charlie (Jeremy Allen White), Mike’s cousin and a serious addict, who gets into it with Lionel; in the ensuing confrontation another fellow, NaNa (Jermaine Crawford) is shot. Then there’s Hunter (Philip Ettinger), buddy of Mike and Charlie, who’s had a fight with NaNa during a basketball game and is hauled in by the cops. Meanwhile dweeb Chris (Rory Culkin), anxious to be accepted by the in crowd, lets golden girl Sara (Esti Ginzburg) persuade him to host a big birthday bash for her at his house while his parents are away; unfortunately, his whacked-out brother Claude (Billy Magnussen) shows up, just having broken out of rehab. Jessica (Emily Meade) gets hooked on twelve and is willing to do anything for Lionel to get it. And finally there’s Molly (Emma Roberts), a good girl from Mike’s past who doesn’t know how far he’s fallen and is trying to reconnect with him; but she allows herself to be drawn into attending Chris’s big party.
And these are just a few of the small army of “beautiful people” that populate the busy but boring scenario fashioned by Jordan Melamed from the book. Perhaps if the material were treated with even a hint of satire, it might have developed some interest. But as is his habit, Schumacher presents it with a combination of earnestness and glitz that turns it into something very like unintentional parody. It would be bad enough if it were simply played like an after-school special on cinematic steroids. But the writer and director choose to overlay the action with a stultifyingly pompous narration delivered by a growling Keifer Sutherland. Even he seems embarrassed intoning the bits of pretentious pap presumably drawn from the novelist’s omniscient perspective. It all ends with a violent event that leaves corpses strewn hither and yon—something that should elicit an emotional response from the viewer but in this case brings only relief that the story’s near its end.
Of the performances, one can dismiss Crawford as a pretty boy trying unsuccessfully to look seedy via some facial stubble. Schumacher and cinematographer Steven Fierberg shoot him as though they were doing magazine layouts, and admittedly he knows how to strike a pose, either lying in his shorts on a mattress or loping along in his black trench coat, but that’s all there is to him. Too many of the cast play very broadly—Meade and Magnussen are the worst offenders—though Roberts and Jackson get by without embarrassing themselves overmuch. The best work comes from Culkin as the eager-to-please Chris.
One of the characters in “Twelve” astutely describes herself as “shallow and narcissistic.” So’s the movie.