In his debut feature, Rian Johnson exploits the hard-boiled world of Dashiell Hammett to ennoble the self-absorbed, overdramatic world of high schoolers. Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Brendan, Brick’s Sam Spade, a wiry but self-assured teenaged gumshoe looking to solve the mystery of his ex-girlfriend’s disappearance. His quest draws him into a set of noir characters, including a deceptively angelic femme fatale, a troubled drug addict, and a sexy dancer/actress. The anachronistic, delivery of the film’s dialogue is at first jarring, and then unintentionally hilarious, as the young actors struggle their way through a style that’s unnatural to them. The world is hermetically sealed; the teens are the “grownups,” and adults rarely penetrate its seedy milieu. Like most self-consciously hip neo-noir films, Brick places tone and plot kinesthetics over believability of character and atmosphere.Gordon-Levitt’s sullen performance is a cool pose, but it’s phony. He’s allowed to “hit the street and break some deserving teeth.” Inconsistent with noir ethos, Brick’s sadistic violence occurs without any consequence; Brendan is brutally beaten and tortured but emerges relatively unfazed. C’mon, even Jack Nicholson in Chinatown had to wear that stupid bandage for most of the film.