When I was growing up, I was constantly reading books featuring kid sleuths like Encyclopedia Brown, Nate the Great, the Hardy Boys, the Boxcar Children, and Cam Jansen. You could say that mysteries were among my favorites as a kid. It was always a fun challenge to see if you could uncover the identity of the thief of the chocolate bars, find out who had stolen the school mascot’s uniform, or see who was behind the haunting of the movie theatre before the sleuth(s) in the book explains everything in the closing of the story. Publishers knew that mysteries were a key element to selling more Scholastic Book Fair product, so nearly every popular kids book series in the 90s had an accompanying line of mystery books, as well, i.e. The Baby-Sitters Club Mysteries (and Super Mysteries), The Wishbone Mysteries (and also Super Mysteries), and many more. That brings us to 2020’s The Kid Detective, a Canadian neo-noir film released theatrically on October 16th, and now available to rent on Amazon Prime, VUDU, etc.
Adam Brody’s Abe Applebaum, once the king of solving small-scale mysteries as a child, is now 31. After being unable to solve the disappearance of his former detective assistant and friend, Abe has just kind of stumbled through life. Attempting to cling to his youthful glory days, he tries to solve mysteries but the cases are few and far between. He’s turned to alcohol to help cope with depression and the knowledge that he’s not become the impressive adult that his parents want him to be. Caroline (Sophie Nélisse), a high school student, arrives in his office one day to hire him to find out who murdered her boyfriend. This is the first time that he is offered an “adult” case and he is eager to accept it to prove that he is still the same Abe Applebaum that the community loved when he was a kid.
The Kid Detective fits very nicely into the neo-noir genre, alongside films like Brick (Rian Johnson, 2005) and Knives Out (Rian Johnson, 2019), in that it does feature elements of comedy, primarily through Brody’s incredibly strong performance, but also because it is not afraid to go to the darker side of the genre. There were moments where I laughed out loud at Brody’s dialogue, but there were also times when I was shocked by the intensity of the events unfolding. While it does have a small section in the middle of the film that slows down a bit, it manages to pick the pieces back up again to deliver a very strong and effective conclusion. I had mainly expected the film to focus primarily on the laughs as the trailer really pitches the comedy, but it was the combination of comedy and gritty noir mystery that really hit the film home for me.
The film features so many intimate moments with Brody’s Abe that it serves as a really great character study on this very specific character trope from 90s young adult literature. Adam Brody delivers a very memorable performance that is full of tragedy, funny quips, and moody moments of contemplation. He has very engaging chemistry with Nélisse’s Caroline, as well, as the pair work together throughout the film to find out who murdered her boyfriend. It would have hit a tiny bit harder if there had been a fun cameo role by a veteran performer as one of Abe’s parents or as one of his former clients. But as it stands, the performances are solid across the board, with Brody and Nélisse doing all of the heavy lifting here.
The Kid Detective is writer-director Evan Morgan’s first feature film credit, and it is a very impressive first outing. The film really oozes neo-noir style through its use of color, very striking cinematography, and overall moody ambience. I am really looking forward to what Morgan does next. Personally, I would really love a series of Abe Applebaum films, as this character is just so engaging and relatable. It’s such a shame that the film couldn’t have been released theatrically outside of the pandemic, where it would have had a better chance at the box office. Here’s hoping that the streaming rentals and physical media purchases will still make the film a success. This is a very entertaining neo-noir that is worth checking out because of it’s strong lead performances, intense mystery, and nostalgic look at 90s YA mysteries.