"The ape blows or I clam."
And like The Dude in the Coen Brother's The Big Lebowski, Brick's BRENDAN FRYE is a loose cannon, a social misfit who has to make like a private eye to get out of a jam -- and rises spectaculalry to the occasion in this quirky little indy flick that wowwed 'em at Sundance.
But whereas the Dude played out his gumshoe schtick in a crazed off-kilter world of middle-aged performance artists, psychotic Vietnam vets, opera singers, nymphomaniac trophy wives, self-styled Nihilists and obsessed league bowlers, Brendan's mean streets are... a high school in the endless sun-bleached suburban sprawl of Southern California.
Yep, we're tramping the same teenage never-neverland that television's Veronica Mars has already staked out as her own, and yet rookie director/writerJohnson manages to add some seriously trippy original touches to this engaging rip on the classic crime and noir films of the forties and fifties.
Like an adolescent Philip Marlowe, Brendan's an oddball loner (and possibly the only teenager in SoCal without a cellphone) who doesn't really fit into, nor pledge allegiance to, any social clique in school, thereby allowing him to move easily between them all in his dogged search for the truth -- or something like that.
Which comes in handy when he discovers the body of his ex-girlfriend Emily lying facedown in a puddle by a drainage tunnel. The police -- and the adult world in general -- are next to useless, so Brendan decides to look into her murder himself and is soon finds himself bumping up against every cliche of every high school you've ever seen (the Brain, the Jock, the Nerd, the Stoner, the Dealer, the Inept School Administrator) -- each a sly reinvention of its pulp fiction counterpart (the hired thug, the femme fatale, the stool pigeon, the junkie, the gangster, the corrupt cop, etc.). Marlowe had his seedy little one-man office; Brendan eats his lunch alone by the dumpsters behind the school.
But what's really fun is the way everyone speaks a sort of stylized pumped-up hard-boiled slang ("all the jake sprang from him"), full of rude wit and raucous laughter. Including, of course, Brendan himself, who cracks wise and offers a unflinching running commentary that fans of detective fiction will be more than familiar with.
It all adds up to one fresh and stylish back-handed high-five to the P.I. genre -- and a more than worthwhile way for gumshoe fans to kill a few hours. The Dude would approve.
Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith.
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