Movie Review: The Kid Detective

“I want to be a pirate when I grow up.” Sadly for most of us, our childhood dreams don’t come to fruition. While this can be for the best at a time when Monopoly money just doesn’t cut it anymore, there are those lucky few who persevere and eventually succeed. Becoming a pirate may have worked for Johnny Depp at one point in his illustrious career as his Keith Richards inspired take on Jack Sparrow earned him an Oscar nomination, but it’s a rarity. The closest we’ll ever get to quitting the rat race to become sea-faring rats usually begins and ends with a rum and Coke followed by a throat-clearing aaargh.

This melancholic stuck-in-the-middle gray area between childhood and adulthood is where The Kid Detective lands. Tragedy and comedy go hand-in-hand, which also makes this sad state of affairs for a once-celebrated kid detective pretty damn hilarious. Now going through the motions as a 30-something, Abe Appelbaum’s heydays seem to be a distant speck in the rearview mirror… mostly metaphorically on account of his full-time pedestrian status. He still has the newspaper clippings attached to the wall of his modest detective agency office but with every day being a slow day, it seems imminent that his weary parents stop covering his credit card bills.

Just as Abe’s getting ready to call it quits and become a pirate, his small town bears witness to a brutal murder, prompting the victim’s naive girlfriend to hire him. Supplementing the police’s inquiry, Caroline commandeers the “expertise” of Abe who embarks on his first murder mystery case. Using colourful flashbacks, this crime comedy caper contrasts a before and after portrait of a promising young man’s mind and his ensuing arrested development. From treehouse buddies to deadbeat roommates, Abe may have matured into a handsome chap physically but seems to have fast-forwarded a decade or two.

The Kid Detective stars Adam Brody as Abe, a charming and likable guy who seems to have been waiting for a big break for a long time. Playing opposite him is the wide-eyed Sophie Nélisse, completing a dynamic duo where the client inadvertently becomes an investigative partner. Brody has a knack for comedy and while he’s not quite in the same league as Bill Hader, there are similarities. The innocent Nélisse helps establish a curious tension and chemistry throughout the film, half Abe’s age, yet matching his emotional intelligence.

kid detective

“Wait… nope, he’s up again. Let’s roll.”

The title may be a bit screwy but it probably matches its writer-director’s comedic sensibilities. Serving as a feature film debut for Evan Morgan, it seems as though he may have invested much of his personal experience into this screenplay. Having served as a writer on The Dirties, a film about two friends creating a comedy film to take revenge on high school bullies, there’s a similar joking-not-joking intensity at play in The Kid Detective.

A Chinatown Jr. feel permeates The Kid Detective. Polanski’s crime epic dwarfs the crime comedy caper in all respects, yet the playful and self-deprecating film is funny enough to keep you transfixed and entertained. It’s a deceptively simple detective story, which works on an action-driven basis to satisfy light viewing. However, it also manages to wield considerable thematic and raw staying power from its characters. Dealing with age, maturity and the moving target where reckless becomes should-know-better, this see-sawing disposition keeps things taut as Abe gently bends the rules in his ragged pursuit of the truth.

Hilarious in its own microcosm of inadequacy, slacker vibrations and low-level investigative charm, the comedic landscape takes on a much darker tone as the kid detective is confronted by his own innocence now deferred. The maturation of the script mirrors Abe’s own development and self-realisation as he connects the dots for his client and himself. A witty and subversively funny dark comedy, this dexterous film will surprise you with its wit, charm and depth. Caught somewhere between Ace Ventura and The Secret in their Eyes, it’s a multifaceted, smart and well-acted film with a curious mix of light and dark. The Kid Detective has layers, is a superb debut for Morgan and while vaguely familiar… is worth revisiting.

The bottom line: Entertaining