Sunday, February 21, 2021

The Kid Detective


Abe Applebaum was a prodigy as a kid. He solved mysteries. "Who stole the school's fundraising money?" "Who stole from the candy store?" "Where's that missing cat?" The whole town loved him. He was so good, he got his own office at age twelve. Now, he's thirty-two. "Is this guy I'm interested in gay?" "Who stole my silver brooch?" "Where's that cat gone this time?" It's all the same deal, except no one cares anymore. He couldn't crack the only case that mattered and fell out of the town's good graces. But now, he gets a chance to redeem himself when the girlfriend of a murdered high schooler asks him to take on the case.

Written and directed by Evan Morgan. This is his first feature, and you can tell—he's clearly still passionate about his stories and dedicated to telling them well.

This movie would be good on set up alone: A dark comedy that blends two worlds of mystery-solving seamlessly together. Half a kiddie detective mystery, with all the cute tropes and cozy tone you'd expect—and half a cynical neo-noir, wallowing in the sadness of a tragic past and floundering through shadowy underworlds and oodles of booze in search of redemption. As we wind through the trail of clues and the twists and turns that we know are coming but still surprise us when they arrive, we are invited to laugh with pathos and feel warm surrounded by the gritty dark. And we do.

The thread that holds the halves together is Adam Brody. No one else can do cynical humor like he does. It's hard to make an audience sad and still get them to laugh, but Brody's hardboiled man-child loser-detective-who-still-cares has it in the bag by scene two. He probably could have played Abe in his sleep and got away with it, but he digs in and fleshes out what the script brings to make a well-rounded character of real, relevant flaws, and genuine sympathy. The role is practically custom-made for the unique persona he brings to the screen, but heck, the whole premise and plot is custom-made for that kind of character. Whether by design or lucky happenstance, this is the kind of casting that clicks like magic. 

Supporting cast is great too. The "bad guy" especially.

For me, it always boils down to character. I spent the whole movie chuckling sadly at Abe's pathetically cynical devotion to his investigation, and that's what won me over, but I have to say—the investigation plot itself was far from pathetic, holding its own alongside the strong premise and character. It incorporates a lot of "Hardy Boys" type antics and formula—hiding in closets when you're snooping in someone's house and they come home early is a running joke—and follows a tight and detailed trail of clues in a classic way that evokes noir mysteries as well as cozy detective tales. Then when the puzzle pieces all fall together for the payoff, it's as satisfying and rewarding as either genre could ever hope to achieve.

I was impressed at how effortlessly refined the writing was too. Plot details and witty lines stand out as they should, but equally as sharp, though less prominent, is the theme. The idea of tainted innocence is embedded so deeply that it permeates the whole story, but never in a blatant or tactless way. And the tonal balance is deceptively effortless. It gets serious and intense but is able to turn out consistent laughs amid it all. The duality—light yet dark, kiddie yet adult, innocent yet cynical—works as more than a fun premise idea because the filmmaker recognized the concept's value and structured everything around it.

All while slapping together a hardcore murder mystery like that's easy or something...!

A huge, popular audience may never be cultivated for this flick, and that's too bad, as even the pickiest of mystery connoisseurs would be hard-pressed to find disappointment. I think it'd make a good companion piece with Brick, and would recommend it to anyone who likes that movie, and/or cozy mysteries with some adult content, and/or darkly comic neo-noir thrillers, and/or Adam Brody's particular leading man skills. For me, that adds up to only one possible conclusion: I love it. Case closed!