Reviewer: James Van Maanen
Rating (out of 5): *½
A little over three years ago critic Nathan Lee used an NY Times Op-Ed article to excuse his spoiling movies for his readers. In it, he is on record as saying that, while he wouldn't dare unmask the secrets in David Cronenberg's A History of Violence, he wouldn't think of extending this same courtesy to Joel Schumacher for his The Number 23. At the time I was prepared to give Lee that year's "Pompousness" award for his ludicrous opinion. I am not a particular fan of A History of Violence and even less of The Number 23. But I always have felt just because you don't care for the work of a certain director does not give you the right to ruin the film for those who have not seen it.
I bring all this up now because, after viewing Schumacher's new high-end, schlock-fest Twelve, I am almost tempted -- almost-- go along with Lee. Twelve wants to be an East Coast Less Than Zero but has none of that film's better moments or possessions, starting with an actor as riveting as was (and continues to be) Robert Downey Jr.
Instead we have Chace Crawford, who is pretty, all right, but he is neither given an opportunity in the script (by Jordan Melamed, from the novel by Nick McDonell) to do much, nor does he add anything on his own to create a character possessing some depth. None of the cast does, but Crawford inhabits a one-note world all his own. His facial stubble never changes, nor do his expressions and reactions. Everyone here seems to have been recruited for his or her "look," and they do look good -- from Esti Ginzberg and Emily Mead (below, with bears, in one of the film's only original scenes) as the hot girls at school to Rory Culkin and Billy Magnusson as exceedingly wealthy and even more troubled brothers.
Most of the characters here are wealthy (with the exception of Crawford's -- and his goody two-shoes gal-pal played by Emma Roberts), who are meant to be working-class (Chace plays a drug dealer, but, hey, that's work!) and so must be better than the filthy-rich, sleazebag kids with whom they go to school. Now, I am no fan of wealth, or the people who parade it around, but when a movie piles it on this thickly, it leaves me nearly ready to vote Republican.
This is a particularly lazy film, as well. A "knowing" narration kicks in at the beginning, offering oodles of non-stop exposition about all the characters on view (this frees the performers from having to create their own characters, I guess). This narration never stops, horning in time and again on the skimpy narrative. Voiced in low-key fashion by Keifer Sutherland (so what?), it drones on about nonsense like: "White Mike [Crawford] would love to jump from rooftop to rooftop, but he knows he never will." Huh?
Early on, when one noticeably unstable character purchases what looks like a Samurai sword from a blue-lit shop in... Chinatown?, mature viewers will be put in mind of Chekov's gun theory. Sure enough: if we see it in the first act, it's gonna be used later on. The movie is awash in constant cliché. Surely an actor like Curtis Jackson (aka "50 Cent") could play something other than a dirty drug dealer? Or maybe not. And, surprise: everyone here seems to have major "mother" issues (except one rich young man who has a major father issue). The mothers on view, including Ellen Barkin, Alexandra Neil and Alice Barrett, are either dead or ought to be.)
I could go on -- god knows, the movie does, but you get the idea. Twelve, from the storied French film company Gaumont (stick to your home turf, please, if you can't give us anything better than this), Hannover House and Radar Pictures, in now on an extras-free DVD.
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