Setting a noir-ish tale of murder, dames, and drugs in and around a So Cal high school might have sounded like an inspired idea on paper, but for all its authentic hardboiled dialogue and familiar crime film tropes, Rian Johnson’s Brick never really offers an adequate justification for its central genre-transplant conceit. On a quest to uncover the killer of ex-girlfriend Emily (Emile de Ravin) – her body found in an eerie storm drain tunnel that’s one of the movie’s many ominous locales – lovelorn slacker Brendan (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) teams with Rubik’s Cube-solving friend The Brain (Matt O’Leary) to infiltrate the marijuana-dealing organization run by The Pin (Lukas Haas). With an intricate script stuffed full of characters, clues, plot twists and barely decipherable tough-guy slang, Johnson’s tale of jealousy, revenge and self-interested scheming-most-foul attempts to relate the power dynamics of traditional noir to those of cliquish grade school society. The drawback to this storytelling initiative, however, is that such links are tenuous at best and, given the director’s preference for mimicry rather than creative reinvention, wholly under-exploited by his convoluted narrative. And because it doesn't posit a convincing reason for its noir-by-teenagers concept, Brick regularly feels like a high school theater production of Chinatown with kids dressing up and acting like hoods and vixens, the two exceptions being the devious Meagan Good (as a femme fatale who literally treats men like lapdogs) and the magnificent Gordon-Levitt, who in a parking lot fight scene exudes the flippant sarcasm and fatalistic resignation of a gumshoe aware of the fact that, despite one’s best efforts, life is more apt to deliver cruel punishment and heartache than solace and satisfaction.