Partially a comedically inflected Agatha Christie conceit, and partially a money-grubbing farcical ensemble along the lines of Death at a Funeral or Daddy’s Dyin’ and Who’s Got the Will, British import Twelve in a Box is wholly a dreadful bore.
Written and directed by John McKenzie (Vol-au-vent), the movie brings together a dozen strangers for a school reunion lunch at a remote country estate. Once there, their host appears via videotape and offers them one million pounds sterling apiece if they can coexist on the grounds for 96 hours without anyone leaving. After a bit of arm-turning, an all-in democratic vote establishes everyone’s acquiescence and confirms the parameters of the contest, but from the start there are social frictions, and things only get more complicated when the eldest member of the group suffers a heart attack and dies. Throw in some standard-grade personal carping, a pair of would-be burglers, a staircase accident and an eventual visit by the police, and you have all the familiar ingredients for a souffle that doesn’t rise.
The explanation for this particular group of men and women — some classmates, many not — isn’t necessarily convincing (everyone who visited the school’s web site was logged, the eccentric benefactor explains, and he chose a dozen names at random), but Twelve in a Box stalls almost from the start owing chiefly to the fact that its characters are poorly delineated, and just not very interesting. The pacing is interminable, the banter not nearly as cute or witty as its makers fancy, and the nature and quality of the performances unsteady. Throw in pedestrian filmmaking, editing that doesn’t help whip the supposedly escalating narrative up into a dizzy tizzy, and the fact that the entire enterprise isn’t helped much by the fact that the movie features only one inarguable babe (that’d be Phoebe Sweeney), and the end result is grating, start to finish. Some of the plot twists are entirely expected (sexual dalliances, both attempted and realized), but an imaginative mind will easily outstrip the forced zaniness on display here. (Masses Entertainment, unrated, 93 minutes)