Presenting: Adam Brody, Leading Man
The Kid Detective released to home video on January 19.
How does one solve a problem like Adam Brody?
Granted, as “problems” go, it’s a good one to have: An actor with the warmth, charisma, and comedic chops of an Adam Brody will never hurt for work. He’s the kind of performer that lets a viewer know that no matter how terrible everything else in a movie may be, there will be at least one reliably entertaining part.
Brody’s gift, and one not to be taken lightly, is his deftness at generating chemistry with his co-stars; he is at his best when he has someone to play off of, and has an uncanny ability to find a working rhythm with pretty much everyone he stars with.
It’s a great trait to have, and doubly so that he makes it all look so effortless. But it’s also a gift that makes his best used as part of an ensemble or a two-hander. He has yet to prove his ability to carry a starring vehicle on his own.
Until now, that is.
From the very opening, soundtracked in semi-ironic fashion with Nancy Sinatra’s “Sugar Town”, writer-director Evan Morgans’ latest feature The Kid Detective strikes a delicate tone. The very premise of the film marks it out as a comedy, but nothing quite plays out the way one might expect from the basic logline. The laughs are plentiful, without question. But this is no spoof or parody, or even satire. Even in its most absurd moments, it has a recognizable beating, wounded heart just beneath its surface.
Brody is Abe Applebaum, considered a local hero in his youth for solving over 200 mysteries. Now in his early 30s, he still makes a living as a detective, solving minor cases for very little monetary reward and existing in a kind of emotionally stunted stasis, prompted by a failure he’s never truly gotten over. He senses an opportunity for redemption when he is hired by high school student Caroline (Sophie Nelissé) to find out who murdered her boyfriend… but it remains to be seen if Abe is actually up to the task of solving something slightly more complicated than a missing cat case.
The intersection of youth and noir and mystery solving is nothing new, with everything from Nancy Drew to Scooby Doo to Brick trafficking in the iconography. In fact, for a broader version of the same basic setup, the Derrick Comedy vehicle Mystery Team goes very silly, and very entertaining with it. But where The Kid Detective elevates itself above most attempts at this particular genre mash-up is in it’s specifically curated tone, which lends a level of humanity to the characters here that not even actual noir, always more interested in archetypes than living, breathing humans, often manages.
It’s a comedy, a mystery, and a character study, and successful on all counts.
And no small amount of the credit for that goes to Adam Brody for his exemplary work in the lead role. He lends serious weight to the sadness inherent to the character, never losing sight of the humanity no matter how ridiculous the character’s actions or circumstances become. Even the comedy highlight of the film, where the trope of hiding in a closet to avoid detection is followed to its logical conclusion, pays off so well because of how nimbly Brody underplays the slapstick of it.
And in following the lead of Brody’s performance, the movie itself walks an impressive line between mockery and sympathy, the ragging never tipping into cruelty at the expense of Abe; though he is often ridiculous, it’s his awareness of his own failures that grounds him, and makes him a figure of sympathy in the eyes of the audience; however terrible his decisions sometimes turn out to be, there’s always an awareness of how he got the way he is, and the hope that he gets the redemption arc he is so nakedly desperate for.
While Brody is the element that brings the various ambitions of the film together, they wouldn’t be taking full advantage of what they’ve got if they didn’t surround him with a murderers’ row of capable co-stars to play off of. First among them being the aforementioned Sophie Nelissé, who invests her Caroline with both a sort of deadpan naȉveté and a wiliness that belies the initial Pollyanna vibe she initially gives off. Sarah Sutherland’s goth gal Friday shtick rubs up against Brody’s attempts at authoritative professionalism in ever amusing ways; and as the mourning father of the murder victim, the ever prolific and ever underrated Tzi Ma gets only a single scene to convey the human cost of this loss of life, and the true stakes beyond Abe’s pride. And, not unexpectedly, he absolutely blows the doors off.
It’s always a tricky thing, talking about a mystery without giving away any of the revelations that are both the reason for being and primary source of fun for the genre. But aside from providing a lot of laughs and an intriguing mystery that doesn’t resolve in anything like you might expect going in, The Kid Detective proves more than worth a viewing just for the characters, none of who are what they appear to be initially… and not in the ‘everyone has secrets’ sort of way that you expect, but in the way that humans are flawed and complicated. And all the more interesting for it.
Mysteries can be solved; people, less so.
The Kid Detective became available on Digital, Blu-ray, & DVD on January 19th, 2021 from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.
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