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Rental Unit:

"Brick"

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For those of you who saw the "Dick Tracy" on steroids that was "Sin City" and now live in fear of young would-be filmmakers poring over Mickey Spillane novels, I invite you to shake the rain from your hat and enter the video store for "Brick." Rian Johnson's film updates the time-worn crime drama of the '40s, and not simply for the pleasures of violence as kitsch.

Maybe it helps that Johnson's muse is Dashiell Hammett. Brendan (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) must pull up the lapels of his raincoat and become a "shamus," digging to uncover the killer of his ex-girlfriend (Emilie de Ravin). His search takes him to the dark underbelly of the high-school elite, where a drug dealer (Lukas Haas) and his muscle (Noah Fleiss) rule with cunning and intimidation. Brendan's got a sharp mind and an even sharper mouth, doing his best Bogey imitation while avoiding the clutches of a host of foreboding characters, including a junkie jock (Brian J. White), a femme fatale (Meagan Good) and a sultry dame (Nora Zehetner) probably up to no good.

Period crime dramas and gangster movies are often collectively referred to as film noir. "Brick" isn't really noir, which flourished during the '40s and '50s, but it mimics many of the trappings, setting a highly stylized, lurid murder mystery at a bland high school populated with seedy characters spitting out hard-boiled dialogue.

Some of "Brick" is ripped straight out of well-known classic movies like "The Maltese Falcon," a habit that comes close at times to pushing the film near the brink of becoming a hack job. Still, there are generations of moviegoers who will make the connection only dimly. Maybe "Brick" will make them curious for its forebears. **** S



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