BRICK sounds like a good name for a blaxploitation movie about a dude named Brick, but that’s not what it is. It’s actually a detective movie starring all teenagers. There are only two grown ups in the whole movie, and one of them, incidentally, is Shaft.
At first I thought it was like RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK: THE ADAPTATION where a bunch of kids made the movie but they didn’t know very many grownups who would hang out in the backyward with them so they just got their friends from class to play adults. But then I realized no, it’s just a gimmick. It’s kind of like those movies like BUGSY MALONE and HAWK JONES where it’s kids playing adult type characters. Or like that episode of M.A.S.H. where a magic genie turns them all into kids but they have little kid-sized army uniforms and they build a tree house and do combat surgery in there. Or what about Veggie Tales, it’s like that only instead of vegetables as the Bible it’s teens as hard boiled noir type characters.
Basically they take a mystery story and set it in a high school. Joseph Gordon Levitt from TV plays a dude who gets a mysterious call for help from his ex-girlfriend, and tries to figure out what’s going on. Next thing you know she’s dead floating in a sewer and he decides, as many teens do, to hide the body and try to track down the killers himself. In noir you don’t worry about the cops finding your hair fibers on the corpse you didn’t kill but hid in a sewer anyway.
So some of the elements of the mystery story are made to fit into the high school world. There is alot of talk about who somebody eats lunch with. There’s cryptic notes put into lockers. There’s a drug kingpin called “The Pin” (get it, pin is short for kingpin, it’s like a whole new language) but he’s a 26 year old dude who lives at his mom’s house. He has hired muscle but it’s just some ugly kid who probaly does steroids and therefore always wears a tank top. And drives a Mustang with a spoiler.
There’s alot of fast talking and lots of made up slang, it sounds like a beatnik trying to paraphrase dialogue from Clockwork Orange. The kid goes around getting information from sources and making inquiries, gets beat up and blacks out an awful lot. Also it’s kind of like the Peanuts where kids can run around all day without ever even catching a glimpse of a passing adult. Except the Pin’s mom and Assistant Vice Principal John Shaft, who stands in for the police since this is Teen World. But you would think maybe the real police would be interested in drug running and murders. I guess they’re busy doing grown up business somewhere far away from the cameras.
This is not a realistic movie in any way. I mean obviously it’s not supposed to be. But it’s a little unbelievable to watch a bunch of teenagers go around, and all of them are pretty smart and none of them ever once mention American Idol or Scary Movie 4 or some stupid shit like that. There is no text messaging whatsoever. In fact, nobody has cell phones except one guy that borrows his mom’s. And in the scene where there’s a party, they listen to jazz. Can you believe that shit? No fucking way. Come on, man. We wish.
It’s refreshing to get away from the pop culture, and it wouldn’t fit in with the noir template. But it’s one example of why I just couldn’t accept this movie. I think teens are not always as dumb as alot of us old people assume they are, but they’re not this smart. Even when you’re a teen and the whole world seems more dramatic, you know for sure that you’re not as cool as these kids with their criminal underworld and private investigations. So it has kind of an embarrassing role playing or playing dress up kind of edge to it. To me a real good teen movie is like CARRIE or HEATHERS, it doesn’t have to be at all realistic but it does have to speak to some essential truths about what it’s like to be that age, so everyone can relate to it. But as far as I could see this has nothing to do with teen life, literal or figurative. I didn’t feel like I had any way of connecting or relating with these teens and the fancy code words and symbols they use to describe the dark underbelly of high school life.
They got all these tough guys that are willing to work for a 26 year old dude who lives with his mom and walks around with a fucking duck cane. I mean my reaction is partly because I’m old, and I’m sure I’m out of touch, but in my day a dude walking around with a duck cane was in for a serious ass beating, he would not be running a drug empire. Even if he got rid of the duck cane he would never live it down, his nickname would be Duck Cane, not Pin. These guys not only accept his duck cane, they treat him like Keyser Soze.
These are teenagers who think and talk fast, who don’t have parents or siblings or friends or school or jobs or hobbies or iPods or TVs or computers, who never do stupid shit but do fall deeply in love or use their femme fatale wiles to ensnare each other into dark traps. But not in a fun silly way like WILD THINGS. That’s another thing, it’s a little too serious for me. I mean it shouldn’t be a comedy, the straight faced approach is smart. But even THE MALTESE FALCON has alot of laughs. In BRICK there’s one scene where he makes some smartass comments to a football player, and another scene where he uses a funny trick to defeat a guy that’s trying to knife him. But other than that it’s all deadly serious and since the whole world of the movie is so absurd that was kind of a bad combo for me.
So I don’t know, maybe you guys will like this, and I sure tried. But the premise is too corny for me to swallow. That’s just too big a spoon of disbelief to ask a guy like me to suspend. I know it’s all about stylization but it was too much for me to get very involved. Teens with turf and plans and shit, playing one side against the other… I guess it’s a good fantasy for a kid, it’s hard out here for a kid, but I’m not a kid. And by the way it’s not SPY KIDS, it’s Rated-R. You have to be over 17 to see it but you have to be under 17 to be in it.
Now, I should disclose one thing. This movie has gotten alot of really great advance reviews, and I heard raves from multiple real life people I know who saw it before me. But then I saw it and I personally didn’t like it and felt like alot of the people in the theater truly hated it. I base this partly on the observation that a woman behind me whispered “I hate this movie” to her boyfriend during the movie. She was kind of dumb though and also kept asking him what was going on in the movie. Anyway it’s possible we saw a defective print where the movie was not very good.
I gotta say this though, it is an original premise and an original feel. The score was good. It was well acted and directed, and I have to admire the dedication they had to treating the premise seriously. I wouldn’t be surprised if the director went on to make better movies. His next one I guess is about conmen, but I will wait and make sure that it isn’t about baby conmen or animal conmen or conmen inside a retirement home or underwater or something gimmicky like that.
I read an article one time about “fanfiction,” which is where weirdos on the internet write stories about Spock fucking Buffy the Vampire Slayer or what would happen if Police Academy arrested the A-Team or perverted shit like that. I think the article was in Wired and it was by that guy Neal Pollack, and he mentioned some woman had written a fanfiction novel about what would happen if the characters from CHICKEN RUN were humans. And he wanted to write to her and say that he thought she had missed the point of CHICKEN RUN.
Good point, but I’m gonna have to be that lady because to me, I would rather see an actual hard boiled story than a hard boiled story told through the medium of teens. A good pulp story is like a jazz standard, you just gotta play it well. You don’t gotta play it on a didjiridou to add a new twist.
Still, they should do a sequel about 15 years from now with all the same actors. So they will be adults but they will act like kids. It’s a high school prom movie but set in a mortgage firm or a hospital or something.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.