Like Jodie Foster, Joseph Gordon-Levitt just may be the real thing, a funny-looking but talented kid star who grows up into a swell-looking, accomplished adult actor. Now 25, the vet of TV's 3rd Rock from the Sun (1996-2001) turns in an impressive performance in Brick, an atmospheric mystery that plays and sounds like an old-fashioned tough-guy detective thriller. The twist: Its slang-slinging characters are mostly high school students living in a California coastal town.
Gordon-Levitt portrays Brendan, a brainy outcast who makes like Humphrey Bogart while spending two frantic days trying to pin down who murdered his ex-girlfriend (Emilie de Ravin)—and why. His search brings him into contact with various types, including a rich femme-fatale (Zehetner), a jock (Brian White) and a drug dealer (Lukas Haas). What's refreshing about Brick, written and directed by first-timer Rian Johnson, is that it succeeds like Napoleon Dynamite did in creating its own unique, hermetic world. It's not necessarily a world that you'd want to live in, but it is an intriguing one to visit. (R)