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Film review: 12

Published: Thursday, April 30 2009 5:02 p.m. MDT

It's hard to figure out why certain artists think they can do better than the classics.

Take "12," an Eastern European rehashing of the 1957 courtroom thriller "12 Angry Men." Filmmaker Nikita Mikhalkov has expanded the fairly simple, but extremely effective, original story.

And "expanding" is putting it mildly. The film is 153 minutes, which makes it nearly a full hour longer than director Sidney Lumet's version. That doesn't make it any better. It just makes it longer.

Still, the performances of those playing the jurors are solid, and the story does hold some interest.

As in the earlier American version, it's a varied group of men that's been sequestered in a school gymnasium in pursuit of "justice."

The jury includes a bigoted taxi driver (Sergey Garmash), a television producer (Yuri Stoyanov), a philosopher (Valentin Gaft) and a surgeon (Sergei Gazarov).

They're supposed to decide the fate of a Chechen teen (Apti Magamaev), who's been accused of killing his Russian stepfather.

And they're about ready to convict him of the crime — all except for one holdout, a boozy inventor (Sergei Makovetsky).

Co-screenwriter/director Mikhalkov ("Burnt by the Sun") also takes on a key role in the film — he plays the jury foreman.

But his adaptation — which doesn't really acknowledge the contributions of either "12 Angry Men" filmmaker Lumet or screenwriter Reginald Rose — is loaded with symbolism.

A pesky bird that flutters around the gymnasium is clearly meant to represent something. And the characters reflect certain aspects of society — such as meek intellectuals, the fearful and suspicious middle-class and the arrogant elite.

But much of it is done so clumsily that the characters verge on becoming caricatures. (Mikhalkov is lucky to have these actors, who flesh out these one-note creations.)

"12" is rated PG-13 and features strong violent imagery (a stabbing, as well as war violence such as shootings, explosive mayhem and violence against women), some strong profanity, sexually suggestive language and references, drug references and content (including hypodermics), and derogatory language and slurs (mostly based on nationality and ethnic heritage). Running time: 153 minutes.

E-mail: jeff@desnews.com

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