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Stream It or Skip It?

All Patriot NewsMay 4, 202110min
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Now streaming on Starz, The Kid Detective is an entertaining film that failed to get any mainstream traction or even any underground-indie buzz when it was released last year. I guess that was 2020 in movies for you — a pandemic-derived glut of streaming options that all-too-easily buried a lot of good stuff in your content menus. Seems like this satirical comedy, the feature debut from Canadian director Evan Morgan, might’ve been a sleeper hit in an alternate timeline; so it goes, but it’s also fun to stumble over a little gem like this.

The Gist: Abe Applebaum peaked early. He used to be the Encyclopedia Brownish wunderkind detective who charged 50 cents to solve the case of the missing cashbox, or to track down lost cats. He was so intuitive, he spoiled movies by figuring out the whodunits before they even dunit. He was such a boon to the community, the councilfolk in his perky little town of Willowbrook even gave him his own office in their quaint downtown Main St. His receptionist was a cheerful 14-year-old girl named Gracie (Kaitlyn Chalmers-Rizzato), who he paid with bottles of grape soda. And then poor Gracie was abducted, never to be seen again.

Now Abe is 32 (Adam Brody). He drags his rumpled, sorry ass out of bed every morning and shuffles by some empty bottles to get to the bathroom where he glumly urinates. His parents are concerned about him, as they should be. He still has his office, now managed by a surly goth (Sarah Sutherland). He’s still finding people’s lost cats. He never found Gracie, though, and he narrates like Sam Spade would if he was in the cast of Gilmore Girls. He failed Willowbrook, which has crumbled around him — empty storefronts, graffiti, the air of a perfect little burg haunted by a 20-year-old unsolved crime. Everybody’s wheels are just spinning here.

And then one day this dame parks herself in his office. She’s Caroline (Sophie Nelisse), a grieving widow of sorts, a teen whose boyfriend of three months — an eternity for high schoolers — was murdered. They found him in the river with 17 stab wounds. Everyone sees Caroline as a sweet naif, and now her innocence is long gone. Of course, she has her tragedies, like we all do, but not everybody knows them. And now she tasks Abe the sad-sack self-pitying drunkard with finding her some closure. He’ll have to shake down the ne’er-do-wells on The Stoop and confront the nefarious Red Shoe Gang and navigate the seamy underbelly of Willowbrook. He has yet to solve a murder. But there’s a first time for everything, right?

THE KID DETECTIVE
Photo: Sony Pictures

What Movies Will It Remind You Of?: This parody of hardboiled noir could be a sneaky sequel to Rian Johnson’s debut Brick, which also seems to have inspired 2020 Amazon original Selah and the Spades.

Performance Worth Watching: Abe wears his virtues and flaws on his sleeve — flaws that self-perpetuate, and are increasingly dominant. Brody makes him more than just a recipient of comic schadenfreude, imbuing Abe with an existential longing that reveals he needs a purpose, and therefore has soul. We truly care what happens to this guy; somebody please refer him to a good psychotherapist.

Memorable Dialogue: Caroline explains how both her parents could have died while downhill skiing: “It was a very blustery day.”

Sex and Skin: Just Abe’s sad-ass bare ass when he wakes up dazed in a dumpster.

Our Take: Morgan successfully navigates a tonal highwire with The Kid Detective, sneakily allowing the darkness of uncertainty and the bleaker elements of the human condition seep into the cracks of a happy-go-lucky setting like a gas leak that doesn’t kill too many people, but poisons a bunch of them. We all know the idealism of Smalltown, USA or Canada or whatever — call it Mostly White People, North America — is a myth, and this movie reasserts how moral rot can set in anywhere.

Morgan funnels this idea through the character of Abe Applebaum, a man held in stasis since he lost his innocence at 12 years old (“I was so far ahead of the game, and one day I just woke up and was behind”). He learns a lot about himself retroactively — that he, the kid who was the apple of Willowbrook’s eye, is as unexceptional as everyone else. His fall from grace was a little harder than most. His potential for greatness went unfulfilled. The same folk who used to beam in his presence now sneer. Expectations weren’t met. And now he’s hitting bottom, drinking deep the dumpster juice of failure.

I’m making this sound like a downer. It’s frequently funny, especially in its specificities of setting and character; one of Abe’s signature private-eye moves is to hide in closets and spy on suspects, and in one amusing scene, he peers through the door slats watching a kid play Pong on his computer for hours and hours. All the details, many darkly comic, lock tightly together to tell a story about the secrets people keep — and how Abe is a man with no secrets because his greatest failure is public.

The overarching satirical-noirisms of The Kid Detective ring familiar, and the plot is a little too contrived at times, but Morgan makes sure the film delivers strong in the third act. It’s tidy, but then again, as the final shot asserts, it’s really not. Beneath the movie’s bemused veneer is an admirably realist core. Nobody here is laughing at a kid being stabbed 17 times. It’s laughing at how some might believe such things aren’t possible in their delusional bubble, or that true closure is ever truly attainable. Hard lessons; life goes on.

Our Call: STREAM IT. The Kid Detective is a real gem — clever and enjoyable on the surface, with a rich subtextual current beneath.

John Serba is a freelance writer and film critic based in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Read more of his work at johnserbaatlarge.com or follow him on Twitter: @johnserba.

Watch The Kid Detective on Starz

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Source : Stream It or Skip It?