Drop the Gossip Girls into Sin City and you get Twelve, Joel Schumacher’s adaptation of a Nick McDonell novel about beautiful rich kids who get mixed up in the thug life. It even stars a Gossip Boy, Chace Crawford, whom the narrator (Kiefer Sutherland) tells us is White Mike, “thin and pale like smoke. White Mike has never smoked a cigarette in his life,” and never touched alcohol or drugs. But, the narrator asserts, White Mike is a “very good drug dealer.” Really, though, he’s just a pot dealer who doesn’t like handling guns or the harder stuff. Because we can’t have a protagonist who’s a total scumbag, can we?
If you’re already sick of the name “White Mike,” skip the film, because the narrator says it about a billion more times in an attempt to be Sin City-edgy. “It’s all about want,” the narrator instructs. “What do you want? Because if you don’t want something, you got nothing.” And, “Chris checks his long-unused condoms. In case he gets laid tonight. Pops his cherry. Fucks her brains out. Fucks her raw. Fucks her hard,” etc., etc. So what do you want—to punch the narrator in the face? Good, we’re on the same page.
Chris (Rory Culkin) is a pushover living in a parent-free Manhattan mansion who holds a lot of parties for people he pretends to like “because he thinks he’s supposed to.” His shindigs, and Mike himself, bring the story’s tethers together: Mike has a cousin who’s into “twelve,” a new drug; his addiction and accompanying bravado get him killed by another dealer, Lionel (50 Cent). Jessica (Emily Meade), a good girl who gets good grades, blindly tries twelve at one of Chris’ parties and ends up giggling and stumbling around a bathroom as she recites the Gettysburg Address. Now girlfriend’s hooked: you can tell because her makeup gets worse.
One of Jessica’s friends is Sara (Esti Ginzburg), the most popular girl in the ‘hood who manipulates boys to do her bidding. Chris has a psychotic older brother, Claude (Billy Magnussen), who’s on the brink of going Columbine for no apparent reason other than Mommy doesn’t seem to care too much for him. Hunter (Philip Ettinger), Mike’s friend, is mistakenly questioned for Charlie’s murder. Molly (Emma Roberts), meanwhile, is the true saint here, so upstanding and out of the loop that she doesn’t know that Mike, on whom she’s had a lifelong crush, deals.
In freshman screenwriter Jordan Melamed’s adaptation, all of these kids bounce around from day to day, getting high or drunk or giving their parents grief—most often, it’s implied, because Mom and Dad are cold-hearted jerks to begin with. Hunter is going to be forced by his hooker-loving father to go to Dartmouth if he doesn’t get into Harvard! Jessica’s mother (Ellen Barkin) wants her to see a therapist! During one fourth-wall-break, some girls spill “certain truths” directly to the camera, heartfelt beliefs such as “Chicks must come before dicks,” “The Hamptons rock,” and “Our parents suck.” Retch and repeat—none of these pretty people is believable as an upper-class bottom-feeder, and even if they were, there’s nothing interesting about them anyway. They’re good-looking, secretly (and, worse, superficially) hurting, and like to get fucked up.
Somehow, out of all this faux-chaotic excess, the lesson to be learned is to “live the best life we can.” White Mike’s mother said this, before she died of cancer, and he’s still struggling with that loss. (We see her in gauzy, brightly lit flashbacks that are nearly as cheesy as the kids’ gauzy, darkly lit benders.) And he gets extra good-guy points for like-liking Molly in return, though he can’t bring himself to tell her the truth about how he makes his money and instead leads her to believe he works at his family’s restaurant. (Guess whether she finds out anyway.)
Mike’s relationship-based-on-a-big-lie is the final nail that makes Schumacher’s attempt at a sleazed-up St. Elmo’s Fire intolerable. Living the best life you can would not include wasting your time on Twelve.