Spoilers were trying to be pretentious.
Some movies truly depend on the actor on the starring role. This can be both a blessing and a curse if the lead is a known movie star with a certain type. Then the feature turns into a vehicle where the film serves the actor instead of the other way around. I’m glad to report this is not the case and we can all breathe a sigh of relief. One of the great things about this movie is how much the character is written to emulate an adult whose life peaked when he was a child. There’s a few reservations regarding tonal inconsistency, but all and all it’s quite a decent film.
The Kid Detective (2020) was written and directed by Evan Morgan. Abe Applebaum (Adam Brody) was used to go around solving small mysteries when he was a kid (Jesse Noah Gruman). The whole town played along, giving him an office as a detective and with Gracie Gulliver (Kaitlyn Chalmers-Rizzato) as his receptionist. Gracie disappears mysteriously and the police is unable to find her. A long time later, Abe is 32 and is still clinging to his detective agency. He’s still solving the same small and trivial mysteries that are hardly crimes and mostly misdemeanors. His parents (Wendy Crewson and Jonathan Whittaker), as well as the entire town, want him to move on. Then one day, a high school girl by the name of Caroline (Sophie Nélisse) brings him his first true case. Her boyfriend Patrick has been murdered.
Abe at 32, is not a child in the body of an adult, thank heavens. This is not a movie for children. Abe is however an adult letting life pass him by as he seems to have grown up without completely maturing. He still gives out the same factoids about being a detective that he did as a kid, more or less with the same know-it-all pensive attitude. He’s like a child’s idea of what an adult acts like when he’s jaded. Caroline on the other hand, seems to be a rather independent high schooler after being orphaned at a young age and living with her grandparents. She is not, however, an adult either. When Abe tells her that trying to solve a crime will eventually lead to discovering things she might not want to know, he doesn’t realize that also applies to himself.
That is how far I want to disclose the plot. I love how Brody’s performance is subtly playing the nuances of being an adult that still lives in the past and still try to resolve things as a child. Abe will often warn Caroline about not revealing too much of the case when trying to question a person of interest only to reveal it himself out of petty spite. The interaction of Abe with both adults and teenagers is always awkward. They both don’t know what to make of Abe and most adults see through his act pretty quick. I did notice the constant alliteration in the movie: Abe Applebaum, Gracie Gulliver, Clive Cunningham, Constable Cleary… It does feel like the story starts in a storybook town but in the present everything has been become jaded and corrupt.
There’s a few cringe-worthy moments in which Abe’s “detective” demeanor rubs the wrong way. He chooses to finally speak to Patrick’s parents, who are actually going through the trauma of losing their child. Abe unwisely still tries to flex comic-book-level detective insight where he should have listened more than talked. Mr. Chang (Tzi Ma) sees right through his act, in a scene that is hard to watch. It’s not played for laughs here, but Abe’s mannerisms are the same so the tone is hard to pinpoint. On another scene, Abe ends up hiding from closet to closet ending up by accident on a little girl’s room. How he doesn’t end up in jail for that stunt is thanks to Constable Cleary (Maurice Dean Wint) now the Police Chief, who’s known him his whole life. Fortunately we’re spared the discovery shock when Cleary mentions the little girl is traumatized for life – that’s real trauma. The comedic tone can be fall very far off the mark.
It does work when it works. There’s a few underlying mysteries that you might missed and are actually part of rather involved plot. The funny and the sad are mixed with what appears to be a real detective story, but the tone can be inconsistent at time. That being said, that inconsistency becomes mostly a part of the film’s psyche which can be entertaining except for when it falls flat, such as the uncomfortable scenes I described already. It has quite a dark, bleak atmosphere of adults being broken down and youth being lost that might not vibe with everyone. Solving the case is not a moment of triumph but a realization of the dark and seedy underworld that exists under Abe’s once quaint little town.
Strongly recommended with reservations. This is a comedy about childhood expectations and adult realizations with an inherent sadness to it that hides a subtle slow-burn thriller underneath. Brody delivers an excellent piece of work as the title character. Abe is an adult who was once a child beyond his years and is now a grown up that leaves life pass him by, trying to emulate the glory days of his youth. There is a mystery underneath, but the movie’s inconsistent tone seems to intentionally blur it. There’s a few scenes in which the comedic tone clashes with serious adult themes. Still, there’s a rather nuanced story to tell and a crime to solve. As satisfying at the resolution is, the ending is both as dissonant as the tone throughout the film. Casual moviegoers might find it confusing, but if you stick with the film it delivers on its premise.
That will do for now.