"Synergy" is a funny word. Business types love to use it when describing potential mergers, but while the term lends panache, it doesn't always impart understanding. Basically, if a combination of two-or-more entities yields more value together than separate, you can call that combination synergistic. Think chocolate and peanut butter, David Lee Roth and Eddie Van Halen, a lazy Sunday afternoon and a good paperback. All are synergistic. My wife's inexplicable habit of replacing the "j" in "pb&j" sandwiches with pickles and mayonnaise? Not so much. Of course, even odd-sounding unions can work if their fundamentals fit together well. Consider Rian Johnson's Brick, a thriller that melds hardboiled with high school.
Brendan can tell you that lunch is hard. No one really trusts him after he brought his high school's administration down on Jerr for dealing, not the stoners or the jocks or the social climbers. Brendan doesn't really mind. He's happy eating alone and chatting every once in a while with the Brain, a Rubix-cube-solving outcast with more mental power than half the school combined. Or at least he's happy until he gets a phone call from Emily, an ex-girlfriend who dumped him for a shot at the society scene and fell hard into junkie life when she failed to land on the upper rungs. Em is frantic, spouting about the brick and the Pin and all sorts of other stuff Brendan doesn't understand. Then she turns up dead in a storm sewer. Now Brendan is on the hunt for the killer, and it's a search that'll leave his hands more than a little dirty.
The thing to ask of any unconventional mash-up is how well it works, and Brick mostly excels. Johnson draws parallels between student slang and underworld jive, criminal subcultures and youthful cliques, administrative hierarchies and the long arm of the law, the iconic femme fatale and the unreachable adolescent beauty. The film unspools seamlessly for much of its running time -- much, but not all. As Brick progresses, it grows darker, more brutal, and the educational setting seems increasingly incongruous. Not to say Johnson hasn't told a cracking good crime story, full of poignancy and subtlety. That's quite true. But in the end when the guns come out and the blood starts flowing, high school seems the wrong place in which to situate the story.
(Picture: CC 2011 by Jack_Tempest)