Take the Lead Antonio once again seduces a woman in his dilapidated storage facility.

Brick

dir. Johnson

Opens Fri April 7

Fox Tower

So you like to play the old "meets" game, do ya dollface? Then try this one on for size: It's Degrassi High meets The Maltese Falcon; Zack Morris meets Sam Spade; Raymond Chandler meets Aaron Spelling.

Yep, Brick's a film noir set in a high school, starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt from 3rd Rock from the Sun. Brick-ville's a hardboiled wonderland; senior year is fulla dead dames and double-crossers, but instead of the coppers, we've got vice principals, and instead of smoky jazz clubs, we've got the basement in some kid's house.

Gordon-Levitt plays Brendan, a loner anti-hero who's as quick with his words as he is with his fists. After his ex-girl is found tits up in a drainage ditch, he gets all Philip Marlowe on the town lowlifes, gum-shoeing his high school education away.

First-time director Rian Johnson never lets up on the tough-guy tone or the pace, and for a while, it's fun to see 'roided-out jocks play the dumb muscle, and to watch teenager Nora Zehetner as a femme fatale with a great pair of getaway sticks. After the first 45 minutes, though, you may begin to feel like you're watching the cast of Peanuts trying to act cooler and smarter than they'll ever be in real life, and then the film's credibility—and your interest—will probably head the way of Palookaville. CHAS BOWIE

Don't Come Knocking

dir. Wenders

Opens Fri April 7

Fox Tower

Count 'em: Brokeback Mountain, The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, and now, Don't Come Knocking. That's three great deconstructive Westerns in less than six months; let's slam the door shut on the genre for another 30 years before the mindless derivations start rolling in.

Sam Shepard and Wim Wenders have teamed up for some of the old Paris, Texas magic in Knocking, wherein Shepard plays Howard Spence, a washed-up Western star who spent the better part of his life knocking back booze, pills, women, and handcuffs. One day on the set of a cheesy, generic Western, Howard takes off into the sunset, leaving the film production high and dry as the road-weary actor sets out to make peace with his personal history. As he tracks down his estranged mother (Eva Marie Saint), an old flame (Jessica Lange), and the son he never knew he had (Gabriel Mann), an odd, starchy detective (Tim Roth) hired by the film company hunts Howard down in the dusty streets of Nevada and Montana.

As if to acknowledge the mythology of the West, Don't Come Knocking has an air of detached artifice to it; the performances are more Hal Hartley than John Ford, the lighting more David Lynch than Sergio Leone. While not a flawless movie, you'd be hard-pressed this month to find another that's this intelligent, cool, and fun. CHAS BOWIE

Take the Lead

dir. Friedlander

Opens Fri April 7

Various Theaters

If I asked you to guess what would happen in a film about an uptown ballroom dance instructor and a detention classroom's worth of inner city high school kids, I'd bet you'd lay out the events of Take the Lead with 80-90 percent accuracy. Antonio Banderas plays Pierre Dulaine—who, in real life, really was a ballroom dancer who founded a dance program in NYC's public school system, and whom I'd bet is 10 times as interesting as this film. It's hard to say by watching Lead, in which we're given zero information about Dulaine's background and motivation. And that's not the only thing we're shorted on—even the dance scenes are mediocre! For a film like this, at least the dance sequences—which try to pair traditional ballroom and hiphop dancing—should be redeeming. But instead, Take the Lead just combines its dismal, cheesy predictability with stereotypical culture clashes. The one bright spot is that this is the film debut of Yaya DaCosta, from season three of America's Next Top Model, who I probably liked only because I've never seen the show. MARJORIE SKINNER