Stories about overindulgent rich kids who live fast and die young aren't new to Hollywood. Movies and television shows are chock-full of cautionary tales showcasing the onslaught of teen sex, violence, and drug abuse that apparently go hand in hand with having a platinum American Express card. The Joel Schumacher-directed Twelve, based on Nick McDonell's 2003 novel of the same name, is another such sad story, exploring the destructive lifestyles of rich teens on Manhattan's Upper East Side.
Twelve chronicles a few disastrous days in the life of White Mike (Chace Crawford), a New York private school kid whose world has recently fallen apart. Cancer recently took his mother and most of his father's money with it, inspiring the devastated White Mike to take the year off to sell drugs to his über-privileged peers. These Marc Jacobs-clad, Less Than Zero-esque lost souls include: Jessica (Emily Meade), who lives with her pill-popping cougar mother (Ellen Barkin) in a swanky apartment; Sara Ludlow (Esti Ginzburg), the private school hottie who gets off on manipulating the boys that lust after her; and Chris (Rory Culkin), a lonely virgin who is bullied by his coke-addicted, samurai sword-toting brother, Claude (Billy Magnussen).
White Mike isn't friends with this crew, abstaining from the drugs he sells and choosing instead to hang out with straight-laced Molly (Emma Roberts), a childhood friend who is fully detached from the prep-school scene, and Hunter (Philip Ettinger), a rich kid who prefers to shoot hoops in the projects. Hunter gets into trouble early on in the movie, held for questioning about the murders of basketball player Nana (Jermaine Crawford) and White Mike's cousin, Charlie (Jeremy Allen White).
White Mike doesn't know about Hunter's predicament or Charlie's murder, though. He's busy trying to keep his clientele supplied with enough product to get them through winter break. White Mike's dealer, Lionel (50 Cent), has come into contact with a new drug, "twelve"--a combination of cocaine and ecstasy that drives the teen penthouse apartment-dwellers crazy, leading to a slew of alcohol-drenched parties, drug-fueled hookups, and violent encounters.
Twelve has some great moments--take note of the trippy scene in which Jessica doses on $1,000 worth of twelve and swims in a pile of stuffed animals in her room--and it's certainly grittier than Gossip Girl. Some of the performances are pretty solid, particularly Roberts' Molly and Meade's Jessica, and Crawford isn't bad in his first real starring role--though, at 25, he looks a little old to be hanging around high schoolers.
But Twelve doesn't quite convey the point-blank honesty that the book does, which was written when McDonell was a 17-year-old private high school student. Kiefer Sutherland provides a creepy voiceover as the narrator, which dulls McDonell's original narrative voice, and several narrative changes for the film deliver a more in-your-face moral than the book's subtler sad truths. Twelve is worth a look, though, if just for a montage of what life is like for the decadent and doomed.