Hypocrisy sucks. That’s about as profound as it gets in director Joel Schumacher’s seen-it-all-before Sundance debut, which seems rather conflicted on the subject itself. Circling a dozen or so characters ripped right out of “Less Than Zero,” “Twelve” can’t decide if it’s a cautionary tale or a lifestyle catalog. Based on then-17-year-old Nick McDonell’s novel, “Twelve” feels like ersatz Bret Easton Ellis watered down for the “Gossip Girl” crowd (it even stars the latter’s Chace Crawford, as its drug-dealing antihero). Not quite self-aware enough to become camp, Schumacher’s trashy high-society soap could connect with younger auds.
In the novel, McDonell introduces his James Dean-looking main character with the words, “White Mike saw that movie ‘American Beauty’ about a kid who is a drug dealer. … The kid says that sometimes there is so much beauty in the world that sometimes you just can’t take it. Fuck that, thinks White Mike.” It’s doubtful the real-life White Mikes of the world would find the movie version of “Twelve” any more authentic.
Cluttered with too many characters and nothing much to say (despite long-winded narration delivered by Schumacher regular Kiefer Sutherland), the pic spends its first 12 minutes introducing all the sycophants and trust-fund kids in White Mike’s circle. After his mother’s death, White Mike dropped out of school to peddle pot to these degenerates, whom Sutherland introduces one by one with descriptions such as, “Tobias, the hot male model.”
Of his ex-classmates, only Molly (Emma Roberts) “gets” White Mike. Whereas the other characters spend their time getting high (the title refers to a new street drug that combines the effects of cocaine and Ecstasy), she’s always shown studying or working. If there’s someone to root for in this sleazy stew, it would be Molly, though it’s White Mike who remains the film’s focus.
If someone were to invent a drinking game triggered by every mention of White Mike’s name, auds would be dead before the first act climaxes. To compound the absurdity, the moniker makes no sense now that Schumacher has transformed him from “thin and pale like smoke” to a dark-haired emo boy with two-day stubble.
But that’s the least of the problems with Jordan Melamed’s screenplay. For anyone willing to wade through the narration (e.g. “If you don’t want something, you’ve got nothing”) and attempts of style (Schumacher itemizes the contents of one character’s pockets against a white background), things fall apart pretty quickly.
Events have been swapped from winter to spring break, for instance, though the onscreen labels inexplicably begin with “Thursday.” That night, White Mike’s cousin Charlie (Jeremy Allen White) and another kid get shot by White Mike’s supplier, Lionel (Curtis Jackson). On Friday, the cops haul in the wrong suspect, and by Saturday, things are poised to go horribly, horribly wrong at “the kind of party people lie and say they were at.”
Connections to 2008 Sundance audience fave “The Wackness” seem inevitable, though it’s hard to work up much sympathy for a drug dealer who looks as though he should be modeling men’s underwear. Schumacher gets surprisingly good performances considering the number of young and inexperienced actors involved (adults hardly exist in this world of absentee parents), and the tech credits are strong, if unusually tame for such sordid material.