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The grand finale of Nick McDonell's book Twelve is one of the most powerful and successful buildups I've ever experienced. After an entire story of fairly tranquil moments, McDonell absolutely blows the reader away with an astonishingly gripping conclusion. However, director Joel Schumacher doesn’t come anywhere close to creating as much suspense in his film adaptation, rendering a grand finale that packed such an intense punch on the page ineffective. The film version of Twelve is quite the opposite of the book, a dull and thoughtless ride with a sad excuse for a climax.
There's really no eloquent way of describing the plot, so let's approach this character-by-character. At the center of the story is White Mike (Chace Crawford), a good guy turned drug dealer after the passing of his mother. Chris (Rory Culkin) is the kid with a house prime for parties. He just threw one on Friday, but when the school hottie, Sara Ludlow (Esti Ginzburg), asks him to host her 18th birthday party, he obliges. Mark Rothko (Charlie Saxton) and his buddy Timmy (Erik Per Sullivan) are always hounding White Mike for drugs. They're overbearing, but harmless. The same goes for White Mike's cousin Charlie (Jeremy Allen White), but when he puts his gun in the wrong guy's face, White Mike's drug supplier, Lionel (50 Cent), he winds up getting himself, his friend Hunter (Philip Ettinger) and a kid Hunter plays basketball with, Nana (Jermaine Crawford), into some serious trouble.
Then there's Sara's badass boyfriend Sean (Ethan Peck) who gets a giggle out of totaling his father's Porsche and Andrew (Max Brawer), a boy Sara is affectionate towards. Then again, she's affectionate towards just about every guy, so he’s no big deal. However, Tobias (Nico Tortorella) is one guy who's busy with every girl but Sara. He's a male model who thinks very highly of himself, highly enough to introduce himself to the innocent Molly (Emma Roberts) in a coffee shop. She's a good friend of White Mike's, but knows nothing of his occupation. Lastly we've got Jessica (Emily Meade), a girl with a bright future that becomes addicted to the newest drug on the market, twelve.
And here we have one of the big problems of Twelve: too many characters. It works in the book, but 117 minutes is just not enough time to fully develop them all. The only person we truly get to know is White Mike and it's a little too much. Mike is the guy who connects all of the other characters, but he's rather bland. Schumacher's attempt to liven him up through dream-like moments are visually stimulating, but overall are unsuccessful.
More time should have been spent on colorful individuals like Sara and Hunter. Instead, Sara is turned into the stereotypical rich and pretty spoiled brat while Hunter's situation becomes laughable. Hunter gets mixed up in a drug-related murder and is taken to the police station for questioning. He's well-established as a good guy, so when he's being accused of killing someone and is basically left helpless, it's easy to feel for him. But then in comes a cop that turns the scenario into an interrogation room parody. It's too bad, Ettinger was delivering one of the film's best performances.
But this isn't even the worst parts of the movie. Twelve is packed with problems, but there are two particularly overwhelming issues: narration and the ending. There's nothing wrong with having Kiefer Sutherland deliver some basic information via voiceover, but his booming voice quickly becomes intrusive and distracting. When you think that’s finally the end of his voiceover, it comes back even worse than before, getting grittier and more vulgar without permitting the audience to deduce what the characters are feeling for themselves.
The ending is painful for all, but particularly for those who've read the book. The entire piece is a good read, but when you reach the end it's clear that you've actually been working toward something all along. The book ends with one heck of a bang. Should the film have come to the same conclusion perhaps all of the mistakes made along the way would have been forgiven, but when that grand finale relies entirely on the audience’s connection to the characters, it's a complete lost cause. Rather than laying low the majority of the time, Twelve’s villain is clear the second he enters the picture. Even worse, from then until his big moment it’s rubbed in your face even further that he’s going to do something bad, taking away all of the story’s suspense.
Twelve is a very poorly made movie, but it hurts so much more having come from fantastic source material. McDonell’s book is basically the perfect screenplay in itself. Schumacher assembled an impressive cast who all deliver good performances, the director just failed to put the pieces together properly. You’d think the guy who brought us The Lost Boys would have been able to handle this dark teen drama, but then again, that was over two decades ago. I’m still convinced another filmmaker could do this book justice. It’s too bad that’ll never happen.