Winner of a special Sundance award called “Originality of Vision,” rookie filmmaker Rian Johnson’s “Brick” is, if not original, certainly odd.
Johnson combines the elements of classic 1940s film noir and “Rebel Without a Cause”-style teen angst in a movie that is as phony as it is ambitious. It’s an A-plus film school exercise with zero emotional or social impact.
Complete with an edgy, rule-bending hero, hardboiled dialogue, duplicitous dames and a bad guy with muscular henchmen, “Brick” is a murder mystery involving high school students in a coastal Southern California town and their connection to a drug ring operating out of the surrounding hills.
“3rd Rock From the Sun’s” Joseph Gordon-Levitt is Brendan, a senior at a perennially empty school who has a tense and murky relationship with the vice principal (Richard Roundtree).
When Brendan’s pregnant, junkie ex-girlfriend Emily (Emilie de Ravin) turns up dead in a drainage ditch, he begins gathering clues with his one friend, the aptly nicknamed “The Brain” (Matt O’Leary), and infiltrates the drug world that brought Emily low.
Johnson’s script is so dense, it takes about five solid minutes of anti-climactic exposition to explain what has happened. I don’t think Raymond Chandler had that problem.
Gordon-Levitt is a bit too scrawny an actor to be playing such a physically rugged character, but he’s got the brooding mannerisms of old Hollywood’s private eyes down, and as his nemesis Tugger – the muscleman who keeps feeding him knuckle sandwiches – Noah Fleiss adds appropriate sociopathic menace.