Bret Easton Ellis by way of Gossip Girl, Reefer Madness, and in the cataclysmic finale, Alejandro Gonzaléz Iñárittu, Joel Schumacher’s laughable Twelve could be called The Lost Boys (And Girls) if he hadn’t already used that title 23 years ago. Based on Nick McDonell’s novel, the film marinates in the glamour and ennui of Upper East Side brats who indulge in sex, designer drugs, and wild bacchanals while their parents are out yachting in some far-flung locale. Working from a script by Jordan Melamed—whose one feature as a director, 2001’s underrated Manic, dealt with damaged kids with more insight and far less posing—Schumacher follows the Ellis model of beautiful youth cast adrift, but without Ellis’ lacerating black humor or his sneaky undercurrent of morality. Peel away the surface gloss, and it’s all pretty clichés.
The false gravitas starts with Kiefer Sutherland’s voiceover narration, which uses vast swaths of prose to suggest an inner life that the film’s lead actor, Gossip Girl’s Chace Crawford, has trouble suggesting on his own. Known on the streets as “White Mike” for his ghostly ways of doing business, Crawford traffics marijuana from the tenements of Harlem to the penthouses of upper Manhattan. When a dangerous new drug called “twelve” becomes all the rage, Crawford’s ambivalence about his profession rises with the demand, and his shame is so extreme that even his closest friend (Emma Roberts) doesn’t know what he does for a living. Meanwhile, various rich kids are getting into trouble, including the socially awkward Rory Culkin, who doesn’t know how to handle his erratic brother’s sudden return from boarding school, and Emily Meade, a twelve addict who’s quick to degrade herself for a fix.
Directing in high-art mode, Schumacher gets a lot of information across through overwrought bits of visual poetry, like shooting flashbacks of Crawford’s beloved late mother in bleached-white backdrops, or expressing Meade’s corrupted innocence by having her fall, half-naked and in drug-fueled ecstasy, on a bed festooned with teddy bears. (The latter presages the ultimate drug-movie cliché: having a wealthy, virginal white girl offer her body to an African-American dealer in exchange for a hit.) Twelve is mostly tedious Ellis-lite until the climax, when all the subplots collide in an unintentionally amusing burst of violence and outrageous coincidence. The giggling it inspires makes it that much harder to mourn for a lost generation.
Key features: Trailers for Mirrors 2 and other upcoming Fox DVDs.