- The Kid Detective
- Written and directed by Evan Morgan
- Starring Adam Brody, Sophie Nélisse and Tzi Ma
- Classification R; 97 minutes
Although its title belies some kind of harmless Disney+ pedigree, real children should stay far, far away from The Kid Detective. The background of Canadian director Evan Morgan serves as the first tipoff: as a regular collaborator of cheeky domestic provocateur Matt Johnson (The Dirties), Morgan practises a particular sort of sardonic humour – dark and haunting in its hilarity. You laugh, but then you wonder just where in your body and mind the snorts are originating from.
With Morgan’s sensibilities in mind, The Kid Detective arrives as a welcome small-scale gift of engaging nastiness – and a surprising one, too, given that the movie premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival’s under-the-radar “Industry Selects” program back in September and was almost immediately snatched up and sent out to theatres by Sony Pictures in the United States and LevelFilm in Canada with little warning. James Bond may have vacated 2020 for greener pastures, but Adam Brody’s grubby, drug-addled sleuth feels like a more appropriate hero for this year.
Back in his preteen days, the perfectly named Abe Applebaum was the saviour of his Mayberry-like town, solving crimes both small (missing cats) and small-ish (missing school fundraiser money). Abe’s Sherlock-like powers of observation became so popular that he was able to hire his young friend, Gracie Gulliver, to act as his administrative assistant. But this Wes Anderson-y world of kiddie quirk turns sour fast, after Gracie goes missing and Abe tortures himself over his inability to solve an extraordinarily adult case.
Now 32 years old and a failure in every sense, Abe (Brody) is at risk of being cut off by his parents, at odds with his equally slovenly roommate and despised by a town that looks a lot more desolate and unwelcoming than it did in Abe’s sunny youth. But things change, at first gradually and then horrifyingly fast, when Abe takes on the case of curiously poised high-schooler Caroline (Sophie Nélisse), who wants an investigation into her boyfriend’s murder.
Morgan’s narrative conceit immediately recalls a frenzied mashup of Rian Johnson’s 2005 cult hit Brick and the more-cult-less-hit 2009 comedy Mystery Team, both of which injected the zoinks-y youth of Scooby Doo, Harriet the Spy, Nancy Drew and Encyclopedia Brown with something darker and more absurd. But as Abe dives deeper into his new case, and as Morgan quickens the pace of his film’s comedic rhythm, The Kid Detective stands out as a compelling and perverse creation all its own.
Morgan’s best move was casting Brody as his depressed hero. With a natural charm, eternally youthful looks but few standout projects to call his own post-The O.C., the actor can relate to Abe better than most actors of his generation. When given the opportunity – as in last year’s Canadian-ish horror-comedy Ready or Not (maybe we should patriate the man) – Brody makes pitifulness compelling, even dashing. We want Abe to succeed because we want Brody to succeed.
Early in the film, Morgan is careful to highlight Abe’s talent in predicting a movie’s twist (“She poisoned his drink!”). It is extremely doubtful, though, that anyone could guess what happens at the end of The Kid Detective. I’m still unsure whether this is a compliment to Morgan’s penchant for yiiiiiiiikes-level wickedness or a warning to audiences whose mileage may vary on such an extreme levelling up of tone. But some cases close more easily than others.
The Kid Detective opens in select Canadian theatres Nov. 6, dependent on local health guidelines
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