Credit: Brick: Steve Yedlin

Shadows and hazy blue light, cryptic notes and phone booths, lonely foot chases and treacherous redheads. It’s the everything-old-is-new-again vision of debut writer-director Rian Johnson. A hard-boiled detective story set in high school, Brick follows Brendan (3rd Rock From the Sun‘s Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a quiet, smart-ass outsider, as he tries to solve the murder of his ex-girlfriend (Lost‘s Emilie de Ravin). Like any good noir, the twisty tale takes Brendan to seedy locations (this being the Cali suburbs, that means squatty ranch houses and strip-mall parking lots), bumping into manipulative people (this being high school, that means Richard Roundtree, wink-free as a tough-talking assistant vice principal, and Lukas Haas as an elegant gangster who deals drugs to teens out of his mom’s Brady-quaint home). Johnson knows his genre: He shoots from sinister angles and includes nice touches, like an old flame of Brendan’s (Meagan Good), who’s literally a drama queen, holding court at the school’s theater in a series of fab costumes. Those who don’t love noir will still get sucked into the hypnotizing smoke-ring dialogue: ”You’re going to make me curious, being so curious,” purrs Haas, in a valentine to Double Indemnity’s ”I wonder if you wonder.” But Johnson’s flick is no mere gimmick: It’s a smoothly acted, cleverly worded, gorgeous film, set in the world of kids, but perfectly mature.