It seems so long ago. That brief glimmer of light towards the end of last year when cinemas were open. It didn’t last long so, with the exception of Wonder Woman 1984, those new releases that found their way onto the big screen were largely unheralded, and some titles simply didn’t find the audience they deserved. The Kid Detective is among those at the top of the pile. But don’t be fooled by the title. This is no kids’/YA movie. Not by a long shot.
At the tender age of 12, Abe Applebaum (Adam Brody) was a celebrity in his small home town, a regular in the local newspaper for solving mysteries by the hundred. But when a teenage girl goes missing, he’s unable to track her down and, twenty years later, it still haunts him – the faded posters in shop windows don’t help – so while “the kid detective” is now an adult, he’s never grown out of being an investigator. Desperately trying to re-live his previous triumphs, he comes face to face with an opportunity that could put him back on the front page for all the right reasons. It’s a murder, one that the police can’t fathom.
And that’s private detective movie trope number one in a series of – I confess I lost count. Which is just one of the reasons why this is a hugely enjoyable way to spend an hour and a half, particularly if you enjoy the PI genre. The nods in its direction are numerous, from our first sight of Caroline (Sophie Nelisse) when she shows up in Abe’s office – yes, that old favourite, the back of the head shot – to the convoluted plot, with its unlikely murderer and twist at the end. Add to that visual references to other movies from the genre – a ceiling fan whirs onto the screen via the Coen Brothers’ debut, Blood Simple – and a score lifted straight out of TV gumshoe series from the 1970s, and you have a film that doesn’t just relish the conventions but cheekily upends them at will.
At the centre of it all is Brody’s Abe, a piece of casting with an inescapable irony. Very much the next big thing after The OC, the actor’s career has proved to be more modest than everybody expected. So far, anyway. Which gives him plenty in common with his character. Irony aside, he’s perfectly cast, downbeat yet engaging, full of self-loathing but stubbornly refusing to let go of his shabby detective business, which barely survives on the most meagre of cases. He claims to have investigated three murders, but his fourth is infinitely more adult – the victim has been stabbed 17 times – and exposes his shortcomings as an investigator. Not that it stands in his way.
The sharp script balances a satisfying character study with a lean, often nostalgic crime caper, and the film doesn’t just turn conventions on their heads – it does exactly the same with your expectations. But all those smiles, giggles and laugh out loud moments mean you won’t mind in the slightest. Sit back, dim the lights and enjoy.
Comedy, Crime | Cert: 15 | Sony Pictures | Digital Download, 15 March 2021. Digital Rental, 29 March 2021 | Dir. Evan Morgan | Adam Brody, Sophie Nelisse, Jesse Noah Gruman, Peter MacNeill.