The Kid Detective, 2020.
Written and Directed by Evan Morgan.
Starring Adam Brody, Peter MacNeill, Maurice Dean Wint, Kaitlyn Chalmers-Rizzato, Sarah Sutherland, Wendy Crewson, Jonathan Whittaker, Sophie Nélisse, Tzi Ma, Amalia Williamson, Jesse Noah Gruman, Marcus Zane, Lisa Truong, Sharon Crandall, Sophia Webster, Kira Gelineau, Dallas Edwards, Avery Esteves, and Bethanie Ho.
A once-celebrated kid detective, now 32, continues to solve the same trivial mysteries between hangovers and bouts of self-pity. Until a naive client brings him his first ‘adult’ case, to find out who brutally murdered her boyfriend.
Mysteries and private detectives are pretty much always glorified, so there is some inherent intrigue when it comes to writer and director Evan Morgan’s The Kid Detective, which follows an adult detective whose best days are behind him and from childhood, albeit not letting that deter him from recapturing glory. Unfortunately for Abe Applebaum (Adam Brody of last year’s Ready or Not), no one is knocking on his door to bring him any cases, he is a person of mockery for his friends, and on the rare chance he is pursuing a lead, his parents are the ones tailing him rather than the media looking to pick up droplets of information for their own investigation. He’s a laughingstock and going nowhere in life; a big kid clinging to his dream of solving the wildest of crimes, and even though the movie is occasionally funny, it’s anything but a comedy.
Evan Morgan has actually chosen a dry tone, presumably because it’s the only way to blend the extremely dark truths of the town that come to light into solving a murder, something that technically is serious but approached with lightheartedness for the majority of the running time. It’s more of a big break for Abe, who seems to be trying to impress both the 17-year-old student Caroline (Sophie Nélisse) that has employed his services to investigate the death of her boyfriend (following disappointing results from law enforcement), and the audience themselves as he explains away his deductive psychology and how he solved relatively harmless cases around his school on his childhood ride to small-town fame that ended up with him receiving a key from the mayor.
There is also an early explanation as to why Abe’s once-promising sleuthing career took on a downward trajectory into nothingness. With that in mind, the proposition of solving a murder is both intimidating and exciting for him, although narratively the movie is not really exhilarating and lacks energy. As I write about The Kid Detective and continuously reflect on the film with its message in mind, that also feels like a deliberate choice. It could also be argued that the script goes too far in that direction, not really diving into its idiosyncratic characters. Abe actually tells Caroline that a case appearing simple on paper can turn out to be something unthinkably sinister, so much to the point where characters eventually have to question if the answers were better left unknown. The third act tone shift into horrifically dark material feels somewhat random and unfocused in the grander scheme of the plot, but one that fits a more realistic representation of crime investigation and the moral of the overall story.
The case also has a bigger picture aspect to it, likely biting off more than the film can chew. There are times where it’s hard not to wish Evan Morgan made two separate movies; the oddball comedy about a manchild detective, and a more centered study of psychology and aberrant crimes. It would be wrong to say he fails to thread those two sides together, but in doing so much of the characters and narrative are left at surface value. There’s no actual investment in the crime or the story. The Kid Detective doesn’t quite work as an enthralling character study either. Still, it’s a curious assortment of genres and messages that’s well-acted and not easy to shake.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, friend me on Facebook, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, check out my personal non-Flickering Myth affiliated Patreon, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com