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  Kid Detective, The Sleuthing Used To Be So Simple
Year: 2020
Director: Evan Morgan
Stars: Adam Brody, Sophie Nélisse, Sarah Sutherland, Amalia Williamson, Tzi Ma, Isaac Kragten, Wendy Crewson, Jonathan Whittaker, Jesse Noah Gruman, Dallas Edwards, Maurice Dean Wint, Peter MacNeill, Lisa Truong, Sharon Crandall, Marcus Zane
Genre: Comedy, Drama, ThrillerBuy from Amazon
Rating:  8 (from 1 vote)
Review: Abe Applebaum (Adam Brody) used to be known as The Kid Detective, because when he was a little boy, he solved a mystery in high school - some missing charity funds he found and tracked down the culprit who stole them - which led to more cases in his smalltown. He even had to open an office, such was his popularity, and the Mayor's daughter, also a kid, was his secretary: he was so successful he would lie awake in bed at night wondering if he was the smartest person in the world. But one day, Gracie, his secretary, disappeared, and the town looked to Abe to solve the case. When he could not, his reputation suffered, yet it was the only thing he had to hold onto...

Now thirty-two, our rumpled hero still finds missing cats and works out whether classmates of schoolkids are bluffing or not about baseball training, but it's nothing major, and Gracie's disappearance has drained all the life out of the place, a loss of innocence he cannot deal with as he slides gradually into alcoholism. When Caroline (Sophie Nélisse) arrives at the office with a new case, he is barely engaged, but when she tells him she wants him to solve her boyfriend's murder, the old instincts begin to kick in. If he could get to the heart of this one, his previous golden boy status could be restored, and maybe things would be all right again. It's not Gracie, but...

Evan Morgan was the man behind this sleeper, a Canadian murder mystery that posits the downward spiral of all those child adventurers who populated young folks' fiction for so many decades, you know, all those Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, Three Investigators series which offered the thrill for the kids of reading about someone their age busting crimes and emerging as champions of justice, putting away the criminals in the final chapter and receiving a reward as thanks. But what if the glow of those early, promising days wore off, was the question, it sounds like a joke, and almost is material for a hacky sketch on a comedy show. However, Morgan took it deadly seriously.

Yes, there was humour in this, in its style it was a comedy thriller, and at times it was very funny, but it was often a cringe comedy as you have to acknowledge anyone acting like a private detective out of storybooks in real life would look like a complete maniac. One painfully hilarious sequence sees Abe trapped in a succession of closets as he tries to escape the house he has broken into to investigate it, with the kind of consequences you would expect - not want, but expect. That he has been requested to take care of the most serious of crimes by the frustrated but naïve nice girl Caroline merely sets him up for the biggest fall of his life, and he did not believe he could tumble any further into depression than he already had. But the whole town is either sad, tired, jaded or a combination of all three.

There was a streak of melancholy in The Kid Detective a mile wide, and that rendered its sympathy for its seemingly hopeless protagonist all the more affecting. It's unlikely you would break down in tears watching this, but the feeling of wasted potential, of starting so well but ending up so badly, was so keenly portrayed that it was like no other mystery, as much a character study as it was a gimmicky little conundrum. What made it resonate all the more was the pitch perfect performance by Brody, who inhabited the role like a child star who has ended up playing in straight to streaming tat, and his shame was evident in every scene. That belief that you really should have been doing better at life by now was what powered the drama, but the succession of disappointed faces Abe encounters every day could be brightened if he gets his act together and divines the killer, despite the town not exactly being a teeming hotbed of likely suspects - deadbeats, yes, but nobody has the motive for murder. The final shot, after the last act twists, hit home like few others in its genre, indeed the whole production was so unexpected and welcome that it's a shame it was rather buried by its timing. Excellent, empathetic music by Jay McCarrol, too.

[Film noir THE KID DETECTIVE is out on digital on 29th March.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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