A down on his luck gumshoe gets a last shot at redemption

Film by Jorge Ignacio Castillo

The Kid Detective
Available on VOD
Opens Dec. 15

3 out of 5

Canadian filmmakers have a penchant for coming-of-age movies, so this film by writer/director Evan Morgan about arrested development reveals some initiative. Even more surprising, The Kid Detective is well written and actually fun, never mind that the light comedy and noir vibes don’t quite mesh.

A prodigy of sorts in a sleepy suburban town, teenager Abe Applebaum has made a name for himself by solving low stakes cases like petty theft and larceny. But when a big case comes his way (namely, the disappearance of the mayor’s daughter) he’s unable to rise to the occasion.

Years later, Abe (Adam Brody, The O.C.) is still sleuthing, only instead of cute he comes across as sad. His cases remain third rate, although flashes of insight into the criminal mind keep him from fully floundering.

Out of the blue, a murder case falls into Abe’s lap. A teen (Sophie Nélisse, The Book Thief) wants him to find who stabbed her boyfriend to death. The gumshoe’s profound self-hatred clouds his natural ability, but even as he bumbles his way through the investigation, he finds a connection between the murder and the case that ruined his life.

The Kid Detective follows noir tropes like the hard-nosed voiceover, unfathomable darkness beneath the surface and widespread moral ambiguity. But the film’s main focus isn’t the plot, it’s Abe — a man shattered by the weight of expectations. For the most part, Brody does a good job portraying the character, alternately brilliant and pathetic. The final 10 seconds he’s on screen are cringe-worthy, but forgivable after all the heavy lifting he does throughout.

A few snags get in the movie’s way. While the plot holes are somewhat forgivable, the cartoonish score is a major distraction. Another mistake is underutilizing Sophie Nélisse, who — when paired with the right material — has delivered. The obvious sources of inspiration (Brick, Veronica Mars) provide a sturdy structure, but one wishes The Kid Detective had taken more risks rather than simply being a competent homage.