What happened when Nate the Great grew up? How long does free ice cream for life awarded to a 10-year-old last? When is it no longer cute to find who stole the fifth-grade fundraiser money? “Kid Detective” is the story of a pint-sized private eye all grown up, still finding lost cats and deducing if a middle schooler actually spent the summer practicing with the Mets but in a jaded adult world. When a gruesome murder occurs in his town, Abe Applebaum (Adam Brody) must step up and prove that he has the adult detective skills to solve a real case.
It’s rare to find a compelling comedic mystery movie with a complicated case you have to piece together. “Kid Detective” checks all the boxes. Its wonderful dark wit and absurdity are combined with an enthralling story of drugs, romance, vengeance and murder. The end shocked and appalled me but was satisfying nonetheless. The protagonists and plethora of side characters all add a beautiful texture to this film. And, most importantly, the comedy never falters.
An extremely unique aspect of this film came from the juxtaposition between the flashbacks of Abe’s childhood and his life now. Many movies and TV shows have used the trope of an innocent world shown in a cynical, more realistic universe—examples being “Kickass” or “The Boys.” “Kid Detective” uses this trope but in a new way. We are not shown a once childish media now made depressing and gritty. The wacky and depressing bleed into each other. In the world of “Kid Detective,” drugs and gangs have the same silly names that would be present in a children’s book, and abilities a child detective would have—like being impossibly sneaky— are present even when Abe is 30 years old. At the same time, when there are flashbacks to Abe’s childhood, we’re shown that he was not a perfect genius child whose entire life was getting the key to the city and a quarter for a job well done. He messed up sometimes, he had to put parents in jail for committing real crimes, and there were some cases that were too serious for him to figure out. Neither the silly past nor the cynical present is actually realistic, but they’re not a children’s book utopia either.
A key reason this movie is so enthralling is its slow burn that perfectly wraps up by the end. The main plot is 30-year-old Abe solving the murder of a high schooler’s boyfriend, but on top of this, we have the unfolding of Abe’s life story—including the kidnapping he failed to solve as a teen. None of these storylines are compromised or underwritten. They have their own ebbs and twists, but by the end of the film, it all comes together, as all good mystery films should. As we come to understand the central case, the world around the case is being built up, be it by the turbulence in Abe’s life now or the revelations surrounding his fall from grace. Further still, previous smaller plot points and characters are constantly given deeper significance in the grand scheme of the film.
This movie, at its core, is a later in life coming of age movie. It is all about contrasts, reflecting on life and growing as a character. But this is presented through an absurd lens, of a stereotypical kid detective growing up into a stereotypical down on his luck, alcoholic detective. Flashbacks of Abe’s life, when compared to the present day, have higher saturation, more upbeat music and the town is absolutely idyllic. When the movie begins this, both in plot and cinematography, works to show how down and out Abe is as an adult. As the movie progresses, our protagonist’s world does not become more bright, but he learns how to live in it. He becomes a better detective, he begins to care about his cases again and he finally comes to terms with some of the trauma that his idyllic childhood left him with.
I cannot think of a single complaint about this film. I love mystery movies, and “Kid Detective” is a mystery movie with so much depth and comedy and a unique take on the defective detective archetype. From start to finish I had a great time watching this movie, and I hope it gets the attention it deserves.