The Daily Stream: The Kid Detective Is A Clever Genre Parody With A Dark Sense Of Humor

(Welcome to The Daily Stream, an ongoing series in which the /Film team shares what they've been watching, why it's worth checking out, and where you can stream it.)

The Series: "The Kid Detective"

Where You Can Stream It: Starz

The Pitch: Remember Nancy Drew? Encyclopedia Brown? The Hardy Boys? Those precocious kid detectives made childhood seem exciting and all they did was solve benign mysteries like The Case of the Missing Pencil Sharpener. But even though their whodunits were small-scale, they were still pretty damn magical. So what happens when you subtract the childhood magic, skip ahead 20 years, and catch up with a 31-year-old washed-up kid detective? Evidently, you get a great movie out of it.

"The Kid Detective" is the story of Adam Brody's Abe Applebaum, a once-celebrated mystery-solving kid who's gone from making headlines in local papers to wallowing in his own self-pity. Still solving the same trivial mysteries that made him famous in his youth, Abe is forced to confront the fact that he's failed to live up to everyone's expectations for him — until someone finally brings him a case that could help him prove his worth: solving the mysterious circumstances behind an actual murder.

Why it's essential viewing

One of the many movies that got lost in the 2020 mid-Covid release shuffle, "The Kid Detective " did a brief stint in theaters before showing up on VOD and for the most part, flew under the radar. But this movie deserves so much better. This clever genre parody is catnip for murder-mystery lovers that cleverly twists the detective genre while exploring the ennui of growing up. Writer-director Evan Morgan isn't afraid to completely embrace the darkness beneath the mystery-solving genre but also offers a pitch-black sense of humor that will keep you chuckling despite the existential crisis to follow.

The biggest selling point is Adam Brody himself, who gives a killer performance as the titular P.I. The haunted detective who reads as an analogy for former talented and gifted kids — or honestly, for anyone that had high expectations for their future as a child and is struggling to live up to their potential. You see, despite the premise of the movie, Abe isn't the kind of detective who solves murders. His biggest claim to fame is solving the mystery of the missing fundraiser money at his school (20 years ago) and now his occupation mainly consists of locating missing pets.

Ironically, it's a teenager who brings him his first "adult" case: Sophie Nélisse's Caroline wants to know who brutally murdered her boyfriend. She has no money to offer, but the police are getting nowhere so she seeks out the local detective in the hopes that he'll get her some answers. Abe has never actually solved a murder, let alone investigated one — but that's what makes this case so important. This is an opportunity to redeem himself and prove that everyone in the town is wrong about him. So Abe accepts and our adventure begins.

The tragedy of Abe Applebaum

"It's difficult to accept the difference between who you are in your head and who you are in the world."

Here's the thing about Abe Applebaum (whose name is so whimsically alliterative that he was bound to be a child detective from the start) — whether or not he actually deserves all the hype is your own call. Sometimes, he outwardly sucks at his job. As real adults frequently point out, he has no real experience and still abides by the kind of logic that he used as an 11-year-old detective. But on the other hand, many of his silly little tricks prove effective and when he points out the benefit of thinking differently than the police, he makes a solid point. Then again, he's also perpetually hungover, extremely bitter, self-absorbed, and outwardly pathetic.

All that being said, Abe is pretty easy to commiserate with. His adult unhappiness can all be traced back to the mystery that eluded him as a child: A girl from his class (the mayor's daughter) went missing and Abe never found her. Logically, the adults in his life didn't expect him to — but deep down, they all hoped that the prodigy would rise to the occasion. And more importantly, Abe thought he could too. And he's never forgiven himself for that failure. So solving the murder for Caroline is partially about regaining the town's respect, but it's also much more desperate than that; the person he once was is slowly slipping away. Not only do they see him as someone who never grew up, but he's starting to see himself that way too. If he can't prove them wrong, then they must be right. And where does that leave him?

Learn to laugh through the pain

The brooding character study is definitely the highlight of "The Kid Detective," but it also lives up to its title as a satisfying mystery with all the classic staples: a hungover detective with a penchant for irritating people, a snarky secretary, a doe-eyed believer, an unforgettable car chase and of course, a twist ending. All that being said, "The Kid Detective" always maintains its quiet, mournful tone. Abe's life is morbidly hilarious, especially as he tries to uncover the truth behind an actual heinous murder. A crime caper it may be, this movie is much more interested in the existential crisis plaguing its protagonist — but whoever said that existential dread couldn't be funny?