Twelve, a fevered teen drama about privileged kids from Manhattan's Upper East Side who have everything and still want more, is based on a 2002 novel written by Nick McDonell when the Manhattan-bred author was just 17. An observer at close range of the specimens he wrote about, McDonell powered his headline-grabbing book with on-the-ground authority, amping up the action with precocious bravado and pushing the mesmerizing, wreck-of-the-rich melodrama to a violent climax.
The movie adaptation, directed by Joel Schumacher, covers all of McDonell's ground. But between page and screen, youthful immediacy has been lost, replaced by effortful art direction that saddles the of-the-moment story with a dated Less Than Zero aesthetic heavy on the wardrobe and decor. In other news since the close of the last century, The CW's popular Gossip Girl soap has claimed epic pop cultural ownership of the Upper East Side. Twelve isn't Gossip Girl, nor does it want to be, but some confusion is understandable when GG's Chace Crawford shows up, not as golden boy Nate Archibald but as commoner White Mike, the clean-living, drug-dealing narrator-hero. (''Twelve'' is the name of a potent designer drug that turns at least one user into an addict.)
The gleaming cast includes Curtis Jackson, a.k.a. 50 Cent, as another dealer, Rory Culkin as a runt hungry for popularity, and Emma Roberts as the one girl around who's wholesome and knew Mike when he was too. Twelve ogles the lost boys and girls as they make their mistakes. But unlike the novel, the movie never really gets inside these kids, who aren't in the least all right. C-