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Chumps Actin’ Ill Cause They’re Full of Eight Balls

By Brian Prisco | Film | August 13, 2010 |

By Brian Prisco | Film | August 13, 2010 |

Whenever I see something like “Gossip Girl” or “Pretty Little Liars” or “The Hills,” it makes me die inside. Because that’s teaching teens if you want to be cool, you do coke and fuck everyone. All while wearing clothes that cost an entire summer job salary. Because you’re nothing unless you have someone else inside you. It’s the entire mantra of the fashionistas that fill magazines — both advertisements and content — that pretty and money are the only commodities you need to succeed in life. Thus came Nick McDonell onto the scene, the privileged son of high-profile parents, who scribbled his first novel Twelve at the precocious age of 17. People praised it because that’s what rich people do; they take E and suck each others’ cocks. We know this because we’ve watched the online upskirt shots and camera phone videos of Lindsay Lohan blowing a record producer’s nephew on a yacht, and because we read Bret Easton Ellis and Jay McInerney. So did McDonell, obviously, as Twelve is nothing more than a disaffected aping of the Brat Pack works, a too-lazy-to-be-actual plagiarism muttered from a half-hangover on a $5,200 divan to the foreign kid you hired to type your term papers. Because McDonell existed in those worlds, we’re supposed to believe that it’s somehow more real, more edgy because all these fucks and fuckings come straight from the mouth of babes. It’s nothing more than a magazine spread, glossy and meaningless and blasé and completely devoid of any substance. And why any studio felt like this film would be better expressed through the lens of 71-year-old Joel Schumacher is anyone’s guess, since he hasn’t been able to portray any generation with a modicum of success since Tigerland.

Twelve is the name of a new designer drug that’s basically like coke and ecstasy and weed and all the necessarily vichysoisse of vitamins necessary to get prep school Prada on the bedroom floors. The plot’s kind of like doing a page scrawl down Perez Hilton’s page, and just as thought provoking and insightful. A cornucopia of every imaginable cliché traipses through the story, like flipping through W. We’ve got the A student who dumbs herself down and then gets hooked on the titular narcotic. We’ve got a rich loser who people use for his money and house to throw parties. We’ve got a super hot girl who uses boys and gets followed around by a harem of slutty tarts. We’ve got two weed-obsessed spazzes who are…um, weed-obsessed spazzes. We’ve got a male model who uses his looks to score free girls. We’ve got a roid rehab reject who spends his time lifting weights and swinging a katana on a skyline-view rooftop. Only, in these descriptions, I’m giving everyone way more character other than a yearbook photo and a trust fund smirk. If there’s a central figure in the story, it’s probably White Mike, the drug dealer who never does drugs, harbors a longing for his cancer-snuffed mother, and keeps this all a secret from the sweet but naïve friend who is all that he desires. It’s as if McDonell Twittered the entire premise to Schumacher from his Droid X while sitting in a LA scene bar.

I won’t blame a single actor, since based solely on who he once was, Schumacher puts together a pretty impressive roster of hot new things. Chace Crawford headlines as White Mike (who’s not some kind of Jamie Kennedyian gangsta wannabe, but rather more like the kind of kid who dresses like James Dean and wanders the streets of Manhattan in search for…I don’t know, let’s call it honesty), but we’ve got Emma Roberts and Rory Culkin (my heroes from Lymelife), Ellen Barkin, 50 Cent, and a bunch of other faces who you’ll probably see in reruns of CW or ABC Family shows. Kiefer Sutherland looms over the entire production offering bland, somewhat menacing commentary like he’s doing one of his credit card commercials. Again, voiceover narration can be used to great success in some projects, but this is not one of them.

Plus, it’s very telling Schumacher feels that a 40-something with a gravelly rumble is the representative voice for a generation of high-school prep kids. I will point out two names though — I thought Charlie Saxton did a pretty impressive job with his nothing role of Mark Rothko and Billy Magnussen was like a rage-Hulked Emilio Estevez as Claude, the destructive force that finally and thankfully demolishes the ending of the picture.

The film’s got lots of people doing drugs and each other, with a few essentially pointless murders occurring. I remember the novel well, because I read it just as I was getting into Ellis (American Psycho, just like the rest of you) so I never read Rules of Attraction. Comparing those two books, because they basically tell the same non-narrative non-story, explains the failings of McDonell. There’s no substance besides a Beavis and Butthead like koan of “This World Sucks, Heh-Heh, Sex Is For Pretty People, Let’s Do Drugs.” But Jordan Melamed, the screenwriter, manages to go even further in invalidating the already sparse and drudging prose with his adaptation. In reading the novel’s kind of bizarre finale, I remember it being more of a Clare Quilty like rampage of mayhem and cartoonishness. The characters clash much better, the relationships are more like bubbles in a lava lamp as the different people interact, but in Melamed’s version, it’s as if the characters get shuffled like a deck of pornographic playing cards. Gone is the kind of chaos and frustration of high school McDonell managed to infuse his book with, exchanged instead for this sort of The Clique like mentality of detachment and ennui. In short, instead of making the book a Bret Easton Ellis novel set in high school, he makes a high-school version of Bret Easton Ellis, which is embarrassing and ineffective. But everyone’s just too damn cool to care.

I adored the opening line of the novel, “Can we please all stand and have a moment of silence for those students who died? And can we now have a moment of silence for those students who killed them?” I thought that allowed us to forgive the insecurity and copycat nature of the book. No matter what ridiculous shit happened, no matter who we liked and disliked because of their foibles, all of these kids were important. But that gets lost in Schumacher’s version of Twelve. It just becomes another primetime drama with empty calories and glittery nonsense. Like some designer drug, you can only take so much of this before it just leaves you hollowed and burned out. But hey, at least you look pretty.