Thursday, August 5, 2010

Joel Schumacher's TWELVE should burnish the filmmaker's reputation -- for sleaze

Three years ago, very nearly to the week, 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 he wouldn't dare unmask the secrets in David Cronenberg's A History of Violence but that 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 Mr. Lee that year's "Pompous Little Twit" award for his ridiculous opinion.  I am not a particular fan of A History of Violence and even less of The Number 23.  But, I am sorry: Because you do not care for the work of a certain director does not give you the right to destroy his movie for those who have not seen it.

I bring all this up now because, after viewing the new high-end, schlock-fest TWELVE, directed by Mr. Schumancher (shown at left),  I am almost tempted -- but still cannot -- 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 an actor named Chace Crawford (shown above: and, sorry, Gossip Girls and Boys, this is the full extent of Chace's naked body that Twelve allows you to view).  Mr Crawford is pretty, all right, but he is neither given an opportunity in the script (by Jordan Melamed, from the novel by Nick McDonell) nor does he do anything on his own to create a character possessing some depth.

But then none of the cast does, though 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 (above, left) and Emily Mead (below, with bears, in one of the film's only original scenes) as the hot girls at school to Rory Culkin (shown at bottom, with Ms. Ginzberg) 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, shown below).  They seem 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 for John McCain.

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 narrative (there isn't much of one, actually).  Voiced in low-key fashion by Keifer Sutherland (so what?), it drones on about nonsense such as this: "White Mike (that's 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 (at left), Alexandra Neil and Alice Barrett, are either dead or ought to be.)

I could go on -- god knows, the movie does -- but why?  I'd only bore you silly and put myself to sleep.  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, opens Friday, August 6, all over the place. In NYC, you can find it at the AMC Empire 25, the U.A. 64th and 2nd, and the Cinema Village.

On various web sites, from that of  Hannover House to the IMDB, the movie is stated to be just under 2 hours in length, but the screener print the press saw earlier this week runs around 95 minutes. We should be grateful for small favors.

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