There is a really important message at the heart of The Kid Detective.
Crime is horrible.
I know that isn’t news but that’s not the entire message, what this film seems to be saying is that crime is horrible and that we shouldn’t let movies make us forget that.
The Kid Detective starts with the fun idea of a thirty something ex child sleuth who is living on past glories while pursuing the same petty theft and missing animal cases as well as nursing regular hangovers and periods of self loathing. It takes this softest and most unchallenging of all the crime sub genres, highlights the silliness of it and then drops in a properly nasty murder and kidnap. On the one hand it is just a really dark comedy but I am sure it has bigger things in its sights. The very last scene confirms this in the simplest way, it might all just be a lark but this stuff is actually traumatic.
Kick-Ass did something similar. That film famously featured a preteen female superhero dishing out some fairly extreme ultra-violence and this was clearly designed to shock but it was also highlighting the way we just accept this with established comic book characters like Robin the Boy Wonder and Spider-Man. It’s all fun and games until someone gets hurt and in the real world that pain is devastating.
The Kid Detective is not being critical; it celebrates the idea of the homespun detective that has fuelled films and literature from Jessica Fletcher to Jessica Jones and Miss Marple to the Mystery Gang. It is just reminding us that murder and assault should never be trivialised.
All of this makes The Kid Detective pretty responsible film making and for this reason alone it deserves your money but it also has nice performances from Adam Brody and Sophie Nélisse alongside a cast of strong supporting characters. As a whodunnit it is also very well played out, giving you all the clues and allowing you to come up with theories of your own as you watch it rather than just providing a resolution based on last act revelations.
This is the directorial debut Evan Morgan and the movie appears to be one of those that got a bit lost with all that has happened in the last year. It was premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival to some acclaim last September but had few cinemas to open in and without any pedigree or star factor to sell it on, it has crept out quietly here in the UK on iTunes and Amazon. I hope it is a mystery that lots of people discover.
The Ripley Factor:
The Kid Detective does feature violence toward women; the whole story is set in the shadow of the abduction of a teenage girl that the kid was unable to solve. It is interesting that the main character is male because most child detectives in films actually aren’t (Nancy Drew, Enola Holmes, Lexy Gold, Annabelle Hooper, Harriet the Spy, Lucy Stevens in Detective Pikachu) and there is something in his character linked to failed masculinity and the inability to develop from a boy to a man. His inability to help a female that he was friends with is connected to this which might be a little old fashioned but is something that lots of men have as an issue.
This is all partially balanced by Nélisse’s Caroline who is kind of the sidekick but also the one who hired detective Abe Applebaum for the case but also a kid herself but also a part of the mystery and also the most grounded and sensible of the two, so notions of any inequality between them fall apart. Caroline is presented as naive but is also strong and deals with some tough challenges, starting with the murder of her boyfriend. If there is a message in her characterisation then it’s also a good one.