If a mashup of Gossip Girl, Crash and Traffic doesn’t sound appealing to you, then you should probably skip Joel Schumacher’s disastrous Twelve. If that does sound right up your alley, then you’re beyond help so do whatever you want. In what appears to have been thrown together over a few weekends (it was actually shot in 23 days), the film follows White Mike (Chace Crawford) a straight-edge drug dealer who tailors to the Upper East Side’s teenage addicted denizens, over a fateful three day period in which everything changes for everyone, or some such nonsense. It’s a mess.
Now about White Mike. His restauranteur father has fallen on hard times, so he dropped out of school and took on the task of dealing dope. The kids love him since he is, or was, one of them. Anyway, his cousin gets high one night on a new designer drug called Twelve, presumably because it’s a mixture of that many psychotropics, and goes off to Harlem wielding a gun in hopes of scoring more of the stuff. His plan doesn’t go off exactly as planned, which sorta kinda sets events in motion so that White Mike learns something about himself.
The first question I get when I describe the plot of this film to friends is “Who cares about rich white kids anyway?” I don’t see why we shouldn’t, but this film doesn’t seem to understand the species at all. For example, in one scene a fame-mongering girl dreams big, coercing a venue for her birthday party by predicting the kind of party “Page Six” would notice. Not to diminish the infamy of that gossip column, but has anyone involved with this film met a teenager? Are they aware of blogs? This is one of many little problems that make these kids not just vacuous, but wholly unrealistic.
What has always confounded me about Paul Haggis’s Crash (and its copycats, for that matter) is that it tries to pawn off stilted intertwining plot lines as something of actual substance. At least in the case of that film, each strand was at least interesting. In Twelve, of the plot lines that I could keep track of, only one showed any promise as an interesting narrative and it goes forgotten and unresolved halfway through the film. That is the story of Hunter, played by Philip Ettinger, a rich kid who heads to Harlem to play basketball to let out his demons every so often. He is accused of a crime he didn’t commit, too afraid to call his parents for help and too stupid to call a lawyer. The setup for his story is pulpy enough that I’d love to see it expanded into a whole film, perhaps a teenage remake of Fritz Lang’s Fury. Unfortunately, once Hunter is no longer useful to advancing White Mike’s limited storyline he is forgotten about.
There are a number of good performances from the young cast. Mr. Crawford does a serviceable job in the lead role, but there’s so little to his character that it’s hard to blame him for a mostly one-note outing. Emily Meade, as Jessica, straddles the line of spoiled rich bitch and brainy valedictorian- cum-drug addict. She is given one of the best reveals of the film, one in which she offers her innocence in exchange fora hit of Twelve. Unfortunately, Schumacher botches the whole moment by offering up a cheap joke that botches the impact of the whole thing. Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson is fine, but his role, Lionel the drug dealer, changes motivation from scene to scene too much for him to get an emotional handle on it. Kieran Culkin is best when not sulking, which is unfortunate given his role as Chris, the chronically screwed straight-arrow whose parent free house is host to the much debauchery.
There are many others in the film, but all the performances suffer from the same problem: poor direction. It is obvious that this film was made quickly, too quickly to allow any of them to fully develop a character. There are moments where it feels like you are watching dailies instead of a finished piece. There just isn’t enough coverage of good takes to pull this thing together. It is Mr. Schumacher’s job to know his limits or push his actors to fit the accelerated schedule. He didn’t succeed at either.
Finally, I have to mention the awful narration. Kieffer Sutherland reads what I can only assume is the entirety of the novel by Nick McDonnell that the film is based on sans dialogue. It is a whole not of narration, and there is no justifiable reason for it except that this story is so thin they needed something to get to feature length. Part of the reason the film is hardly memorable is because narration will never take the place of well-developed storytelling. Though the rules of cinema are not finite, “Show, don’t tell” is a pretty big one. Sidestepping this completely, Sutherland’s narration is so present, so constant, that it almost feels as though you are watching an audiobook. A boring, unresolved and barely entertaining audiobook.