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ISSUE 119 VOL 16 PUBLISHED 4/14/2006

By John Douglass
Variety Editor

Friday, April 14, 2006

Today's teenagers are a wild bunch, at least the teenagers in the new indie film "Brick." They run drugs and organized crime at a level Tony Soprano would envy and they can be just as mean.

"Brick" is the twisted new film noir from first time feature writer and director Rian Johnson, and it is one of the most original genre-bending films to come around in a long while. There is good reason it won the "Originality of Vision" award at the Sundance Film Festival in 2005.

"Brick" is an ambitious undertaking, a film-noir whose characters are almost all in high school, or at least they should be. The teens speak in a hard-boiled dialect reminiscent of Dashiell Hammett novels like "The Maltese Falcon," and their issues are pretty much the same.

The film's protagonist is Brendan Frye, played in a career-building turn by Joseph Gordon-Levitt. He is a brilliant kid with a shady past who is out to find what happened to his missing ex-girlfriend, (Emilie de Ravin of "Lost"), and he is willing to do whatever it takes to get some answers. His quest is aided by his peer and friend Brain (Matt O'Leary), who mans his mother's cell phone while acting as Brendan's eyes in the school.

In the course of unraveling the mystery, we meet a motley cast of characters: the conniving vice-principle (Richard Roundtree) is Brendan's cautious ally, but is not afraid to sell him out if the pressure gets too great, the femme fatale Laura (Nora Zehetne), a socialite high-up in the high school pecking order who keeps turning up in unexpected places, and The Pin (Lukas Haas), a kid high up a different kind of pecking order who is not afraid to let his mother pour apple juice for his questionable guests as drug dealers parley at the kitchen table.

The story, in classic noir style, is filled with tons of twists and turns and just when you think you've got it all figured out, you are thrown for another loop. Those whom you thought were bad turn out to be good, some of the good guys turn out to be bad and some of the bad ones just keep getting worse.

The breath of fresh cinematic air that "Brick" provides is most definitely a welcome one. Spring, notorious as a dumping ground for tasteless big studio pictures, has become somewhat of a haven for indie releases and it is always welcome to find a film like this in the mix.

As a director, Johnson borrows a lot of classic noir conventions, but mixes them with a healthy dose of frenetic fight scenes. I don't want to make "Brick" seem like an action movie, which it is absolutely not, but there is a fair share of violence, most of which is exacted on Brendan.

The acting in "Brick" is nothing spectacular, although there is something spectacular about seeing that kid from "Third Rock From the Sun" and "10 Things I Hate About You" make good, but it is never lacking. Each and every role is played well and believably.

The dialogue is one of the most well executed parts of the film. When Brendan resorts to force to obtain information from a stoned gang leader in front of his gang, he wheels around threatening, "I've got all five senses and I got a full nights sleep, and that makes me six up on the lot of you!" Even when woefully outnumbered. This is stuff that we just don't hear, and somehow - don't ask me how - it works.

All things considered, "Brick" is an absolutely worthwhile two hours spent inside this spring. My friends and I all agreed that it was brilliant, which rarely happens, and I would go so far as to say that it is the most fun I have had at the movies since about this time last year.

So if you are sitting around this Easter weekend wondering how to occupy your time, do yourself a favor and see "Brick." It might be a little hard to find, but it's well worth it.

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