Wrenage returns with another trip to the past. This time his time machine may be on the fritz as he’s only going back a few months to 2020 but, hey, the past is the past so I guess this technically makes this a Retro Review, right?
A Red Letter Day
I enjoy watching the Red Letter Media guys (and I swear I played Mike’s doppelganger at Cornhole one time). Mike and Jay recently recommended The Kid Detective (2020), so I checked it out.
The Kid Detective is about a child detective who solved kiddie crimes, like who stole the spelling trophy and who kidnapped Mr. Granger’s dog. The angle of the movie is the kid is now a grownup and faced with solving a real crime — a murder.
This area has been mined before.
The Mystery Team (2009) stars Donald Glover. It apes Alfred Hitchcock’s The Three Investigators, if any of you remember that series. I had a lot of fun with those books and still recall the camper buried in a junkyard that the kids used as their headquarters. I even recollect some of the titles (The Secret of Phantom Lake and The Secret of Shark Reef).
The Mystery Team is a Farrelly Brothers-style comedy and elicited a few guffaws from me.
I’d put Brick (2005) in this category of films, as well. Say what you will about Rian Johnson (I will say the same things), but Brick was a neat concept. It basically plays out as a Dashiell Hammmet novel in a high school setting. Unlike The Mystery Team, Brick was played dead straight.
The Kid Detective is somewhere between The Mystery Team and Brick in tone. The Kid Detective has humor to it but nothing at a Farrelly Brothers level. The Kid Detective humor is more dry-situational. For example, the main character once solved a mystery for an ice cream store owner, so the ice cream store owner gave the kid free ice cream for life.
To see a 32-year-old still coming in the store to get his free ice cream, and how it is a bane to both the giver and receiver, is amusing in an arrested-development sort of way.
The Kid Detective does not star big names. Adam Brody plays the main character. He has shown up in movies like The Ring (2002), Scream 4 (2011) and Shazam (2019). He’s the type of actor you know you’ve seen before, but you aren’t sure where. The only other actor I recognized was Tzi Ma from The Lady Killers (2004), where he played a Vietcong tunneling expert/donut store owner.
All of the actors do a solid job. Brody captures what it is like to be a weary man-child, which is a fun riff on the hard-boiled detective character. He drinks. He does voice-overs. He slaps down a teen punk.
Evan Morgan directed The Kid Detective. Morgan has done some short films but doesn’t even have a link on Wikipedia. He did a decent job with The Kid Detective. If he puts his head down and keeps it up, he can get that Wikipedia link someday.
The Kid Detective meanders along at a deliberate pace. One is sucked in to The Kid Detective’s world. I reckon the character’s life is similar to that of child actors. At one point, they are a big deal and cute. Then they grow up, and their shtick has worn thin. Where do they go from there?
Such is the existential crisis The Kid Detective is dealing with, even as a girl walks into his office and hires (well, asks) him to solve the murder of her boyfriend.
I am not going to go into any spoilers because The Kid Detective is a mystery film at the end of the day. Part of the fun is going along for the ride of discovery. I will say this, though…
If you look up The Kid Detective on the internet before you watch it (as I figure many of you do because that is what I do), you will see remarks alluding to a shocking twist ending.
I’m here to tell you to pump the brakes on that claim a little bit. When one sees such remarks, they imagine something mind-blowing. The Kid Detective did not take anything to a mind-blowing level, but the ending satisfied me.
The Kid Detective seemed to challenge itself. It has a tonal shift to it that is fairly acute. Some people might like that. Others might not. I’m not sure how I feel about it. The movie pulls it off, but I got the sense it was losing its balance. If I might make a metaphor, the movie was like a tightrope walker who starts to fall a few feet away from the platform and dives to safety.
Technically, they made it, but it wasn’t a clean run…or walk, in this metaphor’s case.
The Kid Detective also brings to mind another movie with a similar premise: A Dark Place (2019), starring Andrew Scott. That movie is about a mentally-challenged guy trying to solve a mystery. A Dark Place is straight drama, if I remember it correctly. It had a decent performance by Scott, but it was nothing particular to write home about otherwise.
As long as we off topic, lets push it a bit further when it comes to stories about, let’s say, less professional detectives. Mind Slash Matter is a novella written by Edward Wellen in 1993. It is about a brilliant screenwriter who suffers from Alzheimer’s Disease. Before his mind goes, he writes a computer program to help him navigate daily life. Then, when he is deep into the disease and unable to take care of himself, the computer helps him solve a murder. Thin prose but FAT fun!
But back to the topic at hand — the Red Letter Media guys recommended The Kid Detective. I had a decent time with it because I enjoy hard-boiled detective stories and different spins on them (like the H.P. Lovecraft spin on 1991’s Cast A Deadly Spell; Fred Ward should have had a career playing nothing but hard-boiled detectives).
If I had criticisms of The Kid Detective, I’d say it’s a bit flat. It has a subdued, overcast, Canadian suburb vibe to it (like they were maybe filming an episode of MacGuyver outside town), and it ran out of steam a bit in the second act. Nevertheless, The Kid Detective motivated me to write a review about it. I saw other movies last week, but I’m not writing anything about them. That says something.
Here’s the trailer:
I’ll give The Kid Detective a 6.5/10. The story and character are there to get a higher score, but it needed a bit more energy/pep to reach loftier heights. But if there’s one thing we know about the hard-boiled genre, there’s always another mystery to come walking through the door, with a smile as stiff as a frozen fish and legs that go from the floor to the moon. Maybe in a sequel…