There are few as rewarding a narrative troupe than a good mystery. Watching it gradually unfold as we the audience or reader, along with the protagonist, realise everything is not quite what it seems. It is a staple that The Kid Detective is all too willing to homage, pastiche and revere all at the same time. And while it doesn’t always get it right, it’s a hugely enjoyable, small town, not-quite-thriller that prides itself on character over tension.
As a child Abe Applebaum (Adam Brody) was something of a sleuth wunderkind. Solving high school misdemeanors and always able to predict the perpetrator, much to his parents’ annoyance, in TV shows, he is destined for greatness. Alas, tragedy strikes when his assistant goes missing and many years later, having failed to solve her disappearance, he’s left looking for missing cats and other small-time private investigator work. That is until a local high school student is murdered and Abe is hired to find the killer.
Writer-director Evan Morgan clearly has a love of the gumshoe genre. From the likes of Bogart noirs through to Chinatown, and given the high school relevance, Rian Johnson’s horribly underseen Brick, The Kid Detective feels familiar. But in a very good, nostalgic way. This is not a grim and gritty David Fincher affair. This is more Hal Ashby or Wes Anderson lite.
As all good PIs should be in movies, Abe is down on his luck, drinks too much, forgets what day of the week it is but, beneath the flaws, is clearly a man trapped by his own intellect. Morgan’s visuals delicately show that in his hayday, when he was 12, Abe was essentially the star of his own Disney show, all brightly coloured, sun-dappled, white-picket fence perfection. These days, it’s a little more grey, a little more depressing and certainly a little more sarcastic.
The film is aided by Brody’s trademark sardonic manner. His Abe is both tragic and funny. Cocky yet insecure. And, while not always likeable, always relatable. One scene, in which Abe is pharmaceutically aided in his confidence, is typically Sam Spade before turning into trembling teenager.
It doesn’t always work, despite it’s snappy one-liners the humour is inconsistent while the tragedy feels a little forced given the context over everything else going on. But, it’s always done with enough warmth to keep you smiling.
A strange, quirky little comedy that ticks all the boxes it sets out to, The Kid Detective is a character mystery worth unravelling.