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‘The Kid Detective’ Review: This Smart, Handsomely Noir-esque Whodunit Is No Child’s Play

Adam Brody delivers a layered performance as a past-his-prime PI in debuting director Evan Morgan's sharp crime tale with shockingly dark twists.

By Tomris Laffly

Tomris Laffly

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The Kid Detective

Don’t be fooled by the cheery ring of the Disney-esque title “ The Kid Detective .” Severely misrepresenting the mature essence of writer and first-time director Evan Morgan ’s smart crime caper, this innocent-sounding name might just be the result of poor creative judgment. Then again, it might also be purposely designed to pull the rug out from under the viewer, much as Morgan’s ambitious genre exercise often does to satisfying effect.

In short, you won’t find something as young-skewing as “Harriet the Spy” or “Encyclopedia Brown” here, as “The Kid Detective” has much darker ambitions in store. Splendidly summoning film noir-esque vibes, classically ghastly bad guys and femme fatale types out of a whimsical small town full of grotesque mysteries, this bold and often surprisingly humorous film — think of it as a more mainstream version of Rian Johnson’s “Brick” — grapples with themes related to murder and abuse, as well as the existential dread of its central recluse, who fell grossly short of the promising life he thought he was meant to have in his younger days.

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The visceral negotiation between one’s former glory and failure-tainted adulthood is at the heart of “The Kid Detective,” haunting its sad sack of a protagonist, Abe Applebaum ( Adam Brody ). As we learn during the film’s relatively lighthearted first act — all sun-dappled, vibrantly colored cinematography and breezy Nancy Sinatra ballads — Abe used to be the star of his sleepy village as a pre-teen private eye. (Okay, so there is a kid detective in the story after all.) Solving minor whodunits for his community 50 cents a pop from his adorable tree-house office, he abruptly graduated from finding missing cats one day and scored his big break when he retrieved his school’s stolen fundraising money. This triumph earned him the endless goodwill of his town as well as an actual sleuth bureau, just like the smoky ones you’d see in languid ’70s detective flicks. But his winning streak came to a halt when a young girl from his school went missing — obsessed with the grown-up case he understandably couldn’t solve with his juvenile resources, Abe slowly fell from grace while stubbornly holding onto his PI credentials.

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Frequently drunk and getting mixed up in petty bar fights, the down-on-his-luck now-adult Abe embodies something deeply sad, like the dead-end future of a one-hit band, or a celebrated child star who peaked too early before Hollywood gave up on him. (Perhaps Brody, beloved in his time on “The O.C.,” knows a thing or two about the diminishing returns of fame.) Once several steps ahead of any crime movie he devoured, Abe has now fallen behind in life and lost the patience of his community, a gloomy fact DP Michael Robert McLaughlin’s suddenly gray photography won’t let you overlook. Operating from the same dusty office with a dismissive Goth queen of an assistant (a sharp Sarah Sutherland), he barely makes ends meet through insignificant clients that are few and far between and accepts occasional bail-out cash from his unsympathetically nosy parents. But a second chance thankfully comes knocking when teenage Caroline (Sophie Nélisse) brings him a bona fide case, hiring him to find the murderer of her boyfriend.

The two team up, going down an intimidating rabbit hole of shady schemes that involves drugs, jealous nerds, cynical townsfolk and a chain of unforeseen twists, the culmination of which will make any devotee of physical movie theaters feel nostalgic about the collective audience gasps. Since these turns would be unfair to spoil, suffice it to say that Morgan brilliantly crafts a wild ride of seamless tonal shifts, elevated by polished production values, zippy editing and various narrative grace notes that honor his side characters — including the dead victim’s grieving parents Mr. and Mrs. Chang — with both compassion and wit. (A running gag about Abe’s age-old hiding-in-the-closet trick particularly lends the film a number of inspired giggles and cringes.)

But what’s most moving about “The Kid Detective” is the sibling-like bond between Nélisse’s Caroline and Brody’s Abe, written and portrayed with astonishing sensitivity. Recalling a young Laura Dern with her innocent, blue-eyed façade that harbors a stealthy sort of strength, Nélisse is raw and heartrending when her Caroline faces a number of hard truths in the end. Balancing her naivete with his hard-earned wisdom, Brody never overdoes or undersells Abe’s droll bitterness, ultimately establishing a wholesome chemistry with his co-star that is strangely comforting to witness.

It feels slightly rushed when “The Kid Detective” supplies some shocking answers for all its unknowns. But you will nonetheless be grateful for its generous, deftly considered reveals even when they arrive sooner than anticipated, as well as relish the time you’ve spent in this vintage world of secrets and lies, both entertainingly old-fashioned and defiantly fresh.

Reviewed online, New York, Oct. 14, 2020. (In Toronto Film Festival.) Running time: 99 MIN.

  • Production: (Canada) A Sony, Stage 6 Films release of a levelFILM presentation of a Woods Entertainment, JoBro Prods., Film Finance production, in association with Crave, Bell Media Group, with the participation of Telefilm Canada, Northern Ontario Heritage Foundation, Ontario Creates.. Producers: William Woods, Jonathan Bronfman. Executive producers: Mark Gingras, John Laing, Berry Meyerowitz, Jeff Sackman.
  • Crew: Director, writer: Evan Morgan. Camera: Michael Robert McLaughlin. Editor: Curt Lobb. Music: Jay McCarroll.
  • With: Adam Brody, Sophie Nélisse, Sarah Sutherland, Tzi Ma, Wendy Crewson, Jonathan Whittaker, Peter MacNeill.

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Review: Don’t be fooled by the title — ‘The Kid Detective’ is a clever genre-bender for grown-ups

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“The Kid Detective” is an unexpected mix of disparate elements that in the wrong hands could have resulted in lumpy parody but, fortunately, pours out as something smooth, funny, dark and potent.

Imagine if an Encyclopedia Brown -like boy sleuth had cruised along, catching school cash-box thieves and the like, winning admiration from all — until he ran into an actual life-or-death crime and wasn’t up to the task. And it involved another kid. Flash-forward a couple of decades, and the young gumshoe (Abe Applebaum, now played by Adam Brody ) has never gotten over that failure. The onetime toast of the town is an unshaven 30-something, beaten down by life, struggling to get by. He’s smart as ever, but no one really believes in him anymore. He barely believes in himself.

Abe has fallen to the level of dirty-secrets private investigator: Describing the “big case” he just finished, he tells his mother, “This gay guy wanted me to find out whether another guy was gay.” “Was he?” “Yeah. A little bit.” Then a young girl (Sophie Nélisse) with a dead-serious case shows up and he has to get it together or the consequences could be dire.

movie review the kid detective

“The Kid Detective”: Once, he was a celebrated boy sleuth. That was a long time ago. Now he’s finding that part of growing up is taking a very adult - and possibly lethal - case.

There are definitely pieces there of a slacker, gonzo comedy or a weighty gaze into the abyss. Instead, Evan Morgan, making his feature writing-directing debut, finds a wire-walking balance that makes Abe’s struggle real, funny and dangerous. It’s a kind of gentle, daytime, Canadian noir that occasionally reminds you of the seriousness of the stakes. It is not for kids.

There’s detail in the idiosyncrasies of the town and the people, yet it never gets cutesy. Even small roles are fleshed out — veteran actor Tzi Ma is just great in a brief appearance as a grieving father who is still every bit as formidable as he was before tragedy struck.

The film is effectively self-aware. When it seems about to tip into cliché, it yanks itself back from the edge. In that scene with the grieving parents, when the father calls hogwash on all the holes in Abe’s investigation, it bracingly deepens the risk by rooting us in reality. Morgan and composer Jay McCarrol let us feel the sunny mundanity of this small, friendly town, then drop in noir overtones.

With a no-longer young-buck protagonist, Morgan also shows an ear for contemporary teen dialogue. When Abe questions a teen mixed up in some shady business, he says, “Your mom seems nice.” The girl’s blasé response: “She’s getting to the age where she thinks she’s too cool for me.” When a sweet character realizes she’d made some innocent false assumptions, she gasps, “Oh, my God. I’m such a racist.”

The mystery turns out to be compelling. The characters are well drawn, the acting strong across the board — especially in the gripping climax. For Brody, the role and performance are career bests (so far). And beneath the bells and whistles, “The Kid Detective” is actually about something. It’s a layered look at the loss of innocence. The way that theme plays out makes the movie’s resolution all the more affecting, including its final shot.

'The Kid Detective'

Rated: R, for language, drug use, some sexual references, brief nudity and violence Running time: 1 hour, 39 minutes Playing: In general release, where theaters are open

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‘The Kid Detective’ Review: Adam Brody Is a Failed Gumshoe in Curious Black Comedy

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Abe Applebaum used to be loved. Back when he was a kid detective — think Encyclopedia Brown, Nancy Drew, and the Hardy Boys, with a generous dose of street smarts to boot — Abe was the star of his small town, a whiz kid with charm and pluck and all the other good stuff necessary to solve relatively benign crimes. Someone stole the school fundraising cash? Abe will find out who did it! Worried about the light vandalism plaguing picture perfect downtown? Abe’s your guy! But what happens when a kid detective grows up?

Such is the clever conceit of Evan Morgan’s feature directorial debut, “The Kid Detective,” which picks up decades after Abe’s fledgling career was felled by a truly heinous crime. Oh, Abe ( Adam Brody , sharing the role with young Jesse Noah Gruman in flashbacks) is still a detective — he’s even got the same office, just with the “kid” scratched off the old-school frosted glass door, he’s just “detective” now — but after his tween secretary went missing when they were still just youngsters and Abe couldn’t so much as come up with a suspect, the gloss was off his profession. And, in many ways, his entire life.

Morgan, who also wrote the film’s screenplay, nattily sends up all the usual tropes of the eponymous kid detective, imagining Abe as the kind of junior gumshoe who paid said tween secretary in soda pop and mostly used his skills to just totally ruin movie plots with twists he could sniff out a mile away. But what does that look like nearly twenty years later? Brody, who captured classic hangdog charm with his seminal turn in “The O.C.” and somehow never let it go (a good thing) is a canny choice for adult Abe, the kind of grownup who forgets to brush his teeth, has no idea what day it is, and still needs his parents to deliver his groceries.

So, really, what does happen when a kid detective grows up? In Morgan’s hands, something curious, laced with pitch black comedy and a major dose of tragedy, a winking sense of genre, and a stellar performance from Brody. Morgan lets the audience in on his icy humor early, introducing the ill-fated kid secretary Gracie Gulliver (Kaitlyn Chalmers-Rizzato) as she practically skips down the streets of a cutesy small town to the classic tones of Nancy Sinatra’s “Sugar Town,” only to be kidnapped by an unseen villain and never seen again. Years later, Abe is still smarting from that unsolvable case, a heinous crime that he was wholly unsuited to solve, even though everyone thought he’d wrap it up in no time.

These days, that cutesy small town has fallen into disrepair (no one even comes in for the potato festival anymore), Gracie’s beloved dad and the town’s mayor have committed suicide, and Abe is still saddled with small-scale cases (from finding a missing cat to sussing out a man’s sexual preference). It’s an amusing twist on the down-and-out detective story, and like so many stories that take that shape, Abe is about to be handed a major new case that could turn it all around. Unfortunately, it’s another case he’s deeply ill-equipped to solve.

Enter former child star Sophie Nélisse (best known for “The Book Thief”) as the Gracie-esque Caroline, who employs Abe to find out who killed her sweet boyfriend Patrick, recently offed by way of a truly gruesome stabbing. Morgan and Brody keep the film’s off-kilter humor and lo-fi appeal alive even in the face of some truly dark stuff, with Nélisse proving to be a charming foil for the constantly falling-apart Abe. As the duo dive deeper into the mystery of Patrick’s murder, seemingly meaningless clues and funny asides pan out into something bigger — just like they did in Abe’s youth! — and the once-celebrated detective seems on track to finally solving his first “adult” case.

But that’s the rub, because for all of the film’s winking humor and clever constructs, “The Kid Detective” does ultimately have to grapple with some pretty adult issues. Abe long ago realized his pint-size smartie act wasn’t going to cut it and responded by just not growing up at all. What can possibly happen to an emotionally astray adult who is obsessed with crimes? Nothing good, and while the tonal shifts that “The Kid Detective” makes in its twisty final act don’t always feel natural and will certainly take some audience members by surprise, there is an honesty to them. As Abe pushes closer to the truth, the film moves into darker corners, as Morgan and Brody attempt (with only some success) to hold fast to the humor that has driven it this far. Abe, it seems, is an adult now, and it’s time for an adult story, with all the pain that might entail.

Sony’s Stage 6 Films will release “The Kid Detective” in select theaters on Friday, October 16.

As new movies open in theaters during the COVID-19 pandemic, IndieWire will continue to review them whenever possible. We encourage readers to follow the  safety precautions   provided by CDC and health authorities. Additionally, our coverage will provide alternative viewing options whenever they are available.

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The Kid Detective

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movie review the kid detective

Kaitlyn Chalmers-Rizzato (Gracie Gulliver) Adam Brody (Abe Applebaum) Kaleb Horn (Corey) Wendy Crewson (Mrs. Applebaum) Jonathan Whittaker (Mr. Applebaum) Brent Skagford (Barkeep) Steve Gagne (Rory Beans) Giovanna Moore (Barmaid) Jesse Noah Gruman (Young Abe) Talyssa Therrien (Tracy)

Evan Morgan

A once-celebrated kid detective, now 32, continues to solve the same trivial mysteries between hangovers and bouts of self-pity; until a naive client brings him his first 'adult' case to find out who brutally murdered her boyfriend.


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What it's about.

In The Kid Detective, Adam Brody stars as Abe Applebaum, a once-beloved child prodigy turned pathetic P.I. stuck in the glory days of his past. At 32 years old, he’s still solving petty mysteries and coasting on his parents’ money, but things start to change when he is finally dealt with a real, adult case: a murder that confounds even the local police. As Abe uncovers more details about the case, he also unwittingly finds a connection to his traumatic past and begins a long-overdue coming-of-age journey. 

Released during the first year of the pandemic, The Kid Detective understandably flew under the radar when it first came out, garnering sufficient critical praise but not enough fanfare. It will no doubt find a second life among film lovers, though; it’s too smart and riveting to go unnoticed. Most impressive is how director Evan Morgan, in his feature debut, deftly balances multiple genres in a movie that often feels as if Wes Anderson's The Royal Tenenbaums, Roman Polanski's Chinatown, and modern stoner humor were somehow rolled into one. The gags consistently amuse, the drawn-out mysteries pay off, and the human element persists throughout. Adam Brody, himself a kid celebrity back in the day, expertly carries this delightful and sobering film. 

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Home » Movies » Movie Reviews

The Kid Detective review – charming, funny, and surprisingly bittersweet

The Kid Detective review - charming, funny, and surprisingly bittersweet

Adam Brody gives a career-best performance in The Kid Detective that is equal parts charming, funny, and surprisingly bittersweet.

movie review the kid detective

The Kid Detective is a Canadian import from freshman director Evan Morgan. This is his directorial feature debut and it’s an impressive one, especially when you think of a first-time feature having to juggle comedy and mystery, and he manages to build some genuine suspense. All of that is layered with a three-dimensional performance by Brody that weaves in moments of humor and melancholy. If any part of his performance fails, the movie does as well. For Morgan, that’s not bad for a guy whose main credits come from a handful of Goosebumps episodes in the nineties as a child actor. Then again, maybe that is where he found the inspiration.

The Kid Detective could not have been made without Psych and has some shades of Bad Santa . Some may argue that the film could have benefited from even more black comedy. That is a fair point. However, by the time you may have that thought, Morgan’s film morphs into something completely different and genuinely unexpected.

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Evan Morgan's 'The Kid Detective' stars Adam Brody as a former wunderkind struggling with adulthood.

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The Kid Detective Production Still

A movie that keeps revealing itself to be a little bit odder, a little bit better than you thought it was two minutes ago, Evan Morgan’s The Kid Detective is either a lucky accident or a balancing act more graceful than a first-time writer/director should expect to pull off.

The tale of a 32 year-old failure ( Adam Brody ) who was once his town’s most celebrated child, it spends much of its time looking, with some humor but little mockery, at how it feels to fail to live up to one’s potential. But it’s also the mystery yarn its title suggests, and one whose darker moments require us to point out that, title notwithstanding, this isn’t quite a family film. As suggested by scenes in which our hero recalls Kyle MacLachlan peeping through slats in Blue Velvet , it’s a place where curiosity and innocence are incompatible.

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Release date: Oct 16, 2020

In voiceover, Brody’s Abe Applebaum seems to be setting us up for cute comedy as he recounts his Encyclopedia Brown boyhood: His office was a treehouse, where he charged four bits to solve mostly harmless mysteries in a world not far removed from 1950s white-bread America. Boasting the kind of weird insights into human behavior that probably only hold true in fiction, he righted enough wrongs that the mayor eventually gave him the key to the city. But then came a case that was close to home and unsolvable.

Now a boozy pariah, he continues to straggle into an office with the private eye’s requisite pebbled window and indifferent secretary (a goth played with perfect don’t-give-a-f—ness by Sarah Sutherland), but rarely gets work beyond finding lost cats. His parents (Wendy Crewson and Jonathan Whittaker) bring groceries and judgmental concern whenever they visit his home.

Then a real case arrives. High-schooler Caroline (Sophie Nelisse) wants Abe to find the person who killed her boyfriend Patrick. By stabbing him 17 times.

Everyone in town knows Abe shouldn’t get involved, given his lack of success solving serious crimes and his overall failure to maintain grown-up standards. But his heart goes out to Caroline, an unworldly orphan. He warns her she may learn things she’d rather not know about the boy she thinks was as uncomplicated and good as she is.

The fact that Abe is quickly proven right keeps us believing in the keen-observer persona he still clings to. But slowly, especially when Caroline starts joining him in his pursuit of leads, we realize how often he is blind. Little things add up, and Nelisse manages to project unflappable sharpness while remaining deferential to her elder. Caroline may have been blind to Patrick’s secrets, but she’s no open book herself.

Encounters with local bad kids, with the chief of police (Maurice Dean Wint) and with a very weary high-school principal (Peter MacNeill) contribute to the movie’s tally of sad chuckles, showing the mixture of fondness, disappointment and pity townfolk have for Abe. (Except for those “kids on the stoop.” They’re just dicks.) As any good shamus eventually will, Abe gets slipped a mickey and wakes up in a compromising position — only this time, the mickey is self-administered. Later, an amusing scene of incompetent skullduggery leads to even more public shame. Yet Abe persists.

Morgan’s script generously allows us to deduce the truth just before Abe stumbles across it, which is not to say it doesn’t have some real surprises left. It’s fun to watch Abe put A and B together, and to regain some of his self-respect in the process. But even victory will bring mixed emotions, which Morgan conveys with unsettling finesse.

Production companies: Woods Entertainment, JoBro Distributor: Sony Cast: Adam Brody, Sophie Nelisse, Sarah Sutherland, Wendy Crewson, Jonathan Whittaker, Peter MacNeill, Maurice Dean Wint, Tzi Ma, Lisa Truong Director-Screenwriter: Evan Morgan Producers: Jonathan Bronfman, William Woods Executive producers: Barry Meyerowitz, Jeff Sackman, John Laing, Mark Gingras Director of photography: Mike McLaughlin Production designer: Jennifer Morden Costume designer: Muska Zurmati Editor: Curt Lobb Composer: Jay McCarrol Casting director: Ashley Hallihan

Rated R, 99 minutes

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Movie Review: The Kid Detective

“I want to be a pirate when I grow up.” Sadly for most of us, our childhood dreams don’t come to fruition. While this can be for the best at a time when Monopoly money just doesn’t cut it anymore, there are those lucky few who persevere and eventually succeed. Becoming a pirate may have worked for Johnny Depp at one point in his illustrious career as his Keith Richards inspired take on Jack Sparrow earned him an Oscar nomination, but it’s a rarity. The closest we’ll ever get to quitting the rat race to become sea-faring rats usually begins and ends with a rum and Coke followed by a throat-clearing aaargh.

This melancholic stuck-in-the-middle gray area between childhood and adulthood is where The Kid Detective lands. Tragedy and comedy go hand-in-hand, which also makes this sad state of affairs for a once-celebrated kid detective pretty damn hilarious. Now going through the motions as a 30-something, Abe Appelbaum’s heydays seem to be a distant speck in the rearview mirror… mostly metaphorically on account of his full-time pedestrian status. He still has the newspaper clippings attached to the wall of his modest detective agency office but with every day being a slow day, it seems imminent that his weary parents stop covering his credit card bills.

Just as Abe’s getting ready to call it quits and become a pirate, his small town bears witness to a brutal murder, prompting the victim’s naive girlfriend to hire him. Supplementing the police’s inquiry, Caroline commandeers the “expertise” of Abe who embarks on his first murder mystery case. Using colourful flashbacks, this crime comedy caper contrasts a before and after portrait of a promising young man’s mind and his ensuing arrested development. From treehouse buddies to deadbeat roommates, Abe may have matured into a handsome chap physically but seems to have fast-forwarded a decade or two.

The Kid Detective stars Adam Brody as Abe, a charming and likable guy who seems to have been waiting for a big break for a long time. Playing opposite him is the wide-eyed Sophie Nélisse, completing a dynamic duo where the client inadvertently becomes an investigative partner. Brody has a knack for comedy and while he’s not quite in the same league as Bill Hader, there are similarities. The innocent Nélisse helps establish a curious tension and chemistry throughout the film, half Abe’s age, yet matching his emotional intelligence.

kid detective

“Wait… nope, he’s up again. Let’s roll.”

The title may be a bit screwy but it probably matches its writer-director’s comedic sensibilities. Serving as a feature film debut for Evan Morgan, it seems as though he may have invested much of his personal experience into this screenplay. Having served as a writer on The Dirties , a film about two friends creating a comedy film to take revenge on high school bullies, there’s a similar joking-not-joking intensity at play in The Kid Detective .

A Chinatown Jr. feel permeates The Kid Detective . Polanski’s crime epic dwarfs the crime comedy caper in all respects, yet the playful and self-deprecating film is funny enough to keep you transfixed and entertained. It’s a deceptively simple detective story, which works on an action-driven basis to satisfy light viewing. However, it also manages to wield considerable thematic and raw staying power from its characters. Dealing with age, maturity and the moving target where reckless becomes should-know-better, this see-sawing disposition keeps things taut as Abe gently bends the rules in his ragged pursuit of the truth.

Hilarious in its own microcosm of inadequacy, slacker vibrations and low-level investigative charm, the comedic landscape takes on a much darker tone as the kid detective is confronted by his own innocence now deferred. The maturation of the script mirrors Abe’s own development and self-realisation as he connects the dots for his client and himself. A witty and subversively funny dark comedy, this dexterous film will surprise you with its wit, charm and depth. Caught somewhere between Ace Ventura and The Secret in their Eyes , it’s a multifaceted, smart and well-acted film with a curious mix of light and dark. The Kid Detective has layers, is a superb debut for Morgan and while vaguely familiar… is worth revisiting.

The bottom line: Entertaining

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Movie Review – The Kid Detective (2020)

October 13, 2020 by Robert Kojder

The Kid Detective , 2020.

Written and Directed by Evan Morgan. Starring Adam Brody, Peter MacNeill, Maurice Dean Wint, Kaitlyn Chalmers-Rizzato, Sarah Sutherland, Wendy Crewson, Jonathan Whittaker, Sophie Nélisse, Tzi Ma, Amalia Williamson, Jesse Noah Gruman, Marcus Zane, Lisa Truong, Sharon Crandall, Sophia Webster, Kira Gelineau, Dallas Edwards, Avery Esteves, and Bethanie Ho.

A once-celebrated kid detective, now 32, continues to solve the same trivial mysteries between hangovers and bouts of self-pity. Until a naive client brings him his first ‘adult’ case, to find out who brutally murdered her boyfriend.

Mysteries and private detectives are pretty much always glorified, so there is some inherent intrigue when it comes to writer and director Evan Morgan’s The Kid Detective , which follows an adult detective whose best days are behind him and from childhood, albeit not letting that deter him from recapturing glory. Unfortunately for Abe Applebaum (Adam Brody of last year’s Ready or Not ), no one is knocking on his door to bring him any cases, he is a person of mockery for his friends, and on the rare chance he is pursuing a lead, his parents are the ones tailing him rather than the media looking to pick up droplets of information for their own investigation. He’s a laughingstock and going nowhere in life; a big kid clinging to his dream of solving the wildest of crimes, and even though the movie is occasionally funny, it’s anything but a comedy.

Evan Morgan has actually chosen a dry tone, presumably because it’s the only way to blend the extremely dark truths of the town that come to light into solving a murder, something that technically is serious but approached with lightheartedness for the majority of the running time. It’s more of a big break for Abe, who seems to be trying to impress both the 17-year-old student Caroline (Sophie Nélisse) that has employed his services to investigate the death of her boyfriend (following disappointing results from law enforcement), and the audience themselves as he explains away his deductive psychology and how he solved relatively harmless cases around his school on his childhood ride to small-town fame that ended up with him receiving a key from the mayor.

There is also an early explanation as to why Abe’s once-promising sleuthing career took on a downward trajectory into nothingness. With that in mind, the proposition of solving a murder is both intimidating and exciting for him, although narratively the movie is not really exhilarating and lacks energy. As I write about The Kid Detective and continuously reflect on the film with its message in mind, that also feels like a deliberate choice. It could also be argued that the script goes too far in that direction, not really diving into its idiosyncratic characters. Abe actually tells Caroline that a case appearing simple on paper can turn out to be something unthinkably sinister, so much to the point where characters eventually have to question if the answers were better left unknown. The third act tone shift into horrifically dark material feels somewhat random and unfocused in the grander scheme of the plot, but one that fits a more realistic representation of crime investigation and the moral of the overall story.

The case also has a bigger picture aspect to it, likely biting off more than the film can chew. There are times where it’s hard not to wish Evan Morgan made two separate movies; the oddball comedy about a manchild detective, and a more centered study of psychology and aberrant crimes. It would be wrong to say he fails to thread those two sides together, but in doing so much of the characters and narrative are left at surface value. There’s no actual investment in the crime or the story. The Kid Detective doesn’t quite work as an enthralling character study either. Still, it’s a curious assortment of genres and messages that’s well-acted and not easy to shake.

Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★

Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check  here  for new reviews, friend me on Facebook, follow my  Twitter  or  Letterboxd , check out my personal non-Flickering Myth affiliated  Patreon , or email me at [email protected]


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The Kid Detective

Metacritic reviews

The kid detective.

  • 80 The Guardian Benjamin Lee The Guardian Benjamin Lee In writer-director Evan Morgan’s unusual neo-noir The Kid Detective, it’s not just a suspect or a motive that’s a red herring, it’s an entire genre, a strange rug-pull of a movie that starts in the middle of the road before ending up off a cliff, in a way that both works and doesn’t, a fascinating gambit nonetheless.
  • 80 Vanity Fair Richard Lawson Vanity Fair Richard Lawson It’s a thrill to watch a film that so cogently, shrewdly renders its ideas. It’s a case of high concept, adeptly cracked.
  • 80 Screen Daily Stephen Whitty Screen Daily Stephen Whitty Evan Morgan’s sometimes weird, sometimes whimsical thriller delivers a grown-up blend of film-noir tropes and deadpan humor, for a comedy-drama which starts off lighthearted and then deftly darkens.
  • 80 Variety Tomris Laffly Variety Tomris Laffly Both entertainingly old-fashioned and defiantly fresh.
  • 80 Los Angeles Times Michael Ordoña Los Angeles Times Michael Ordoña The Kid Detective is an unexpected mix of disparate elements that in the wrong hands could have resulted in lumpy parody but, fortunately, pours out as something smooth, funny, dark and potent.
  • 75 Movie Nation Roger Moore Movie Nation Roger Moore With its lesser-known cast, The Kid Detective was always going to get lost in the cinematic shuffle, with or without a pandemic closing most theaters. But Morgan and his new muse have concocted a whodunit that could give Hercule Poirot a run for his money in a contest for the year’s best mystery.
  • 70 Screen Rant Molly Freeman Screen Rant Molly Freeman At its core, The Kid Detective is also just a plain, entertaining mystery - that has a satisfying conclusion both for the case itself and Abe's journey. Anyone interested in the premise or in Brody's performance would do well with giving The Kid Detective a watch.
  • 67 The Film Stage Jared Mobarak The Film Stage Jared Mobarak It’s a good role for Brody by simultaneously feeding on the typecast nature of him being neurotic Seth Cohen from The O.C. and rejecting it by toning down the sarcasm and replacing it with fatigue.
  • 67 IndieWire Kate Erbland IndieWire Kate Erbland So, really, what does happen when a kid detective grows up? In Morgan’s hands, something curious, laced with pitch black comedy and a major dose of tragedy, a winking sense of genre, and a stellar performance from Brody.
  • 50 New York Post Johnny Oleksinski New York Post Johnny Oleksinski Laughter and enjoyment is stifled by the constant question of whether we’re allowed to laugh or enjoy anything at all.
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The Kid Detective is a noir crime drama with a fascinating protagonist and an absolutely mind-blowing climax. What begins as a story about a washed-up investigator in a small town takes a dark turn with several stunning reveals. The plot builds tension with a slow boil. There are points in the film where you wonder what the heck is actually going on. But the downbeats are skillfully placed. Setting up vital clues for a final act bombshell that will leave audiences reeling.

The Kid Detective takes place in the seemingly sleepy suburban town of Willowbrook. Adam Brody stars as Abe Applebaum, a private investigator in a serious life rut. He drinks heavily, does copious amounts of narcotics, and is oblivious to the day of the week. His parents (Wendy Crewson, Jonathan Whittaker) worry as his life spirals out of control. His goth office secretary (Sarah Sutherland) considers him a joke. Abe Applebaum is a broken man in every sense of the word.

The film flashes back to twelve-year-old Abe's (Jesse Noah Gruman) astonishing success as a detective . He was a prodigy. First solving trivial school thefts, then graduating to bigger local crimes. The town treated him like a celebrity. Everything changed when Abe's friend and schoolmate, fourteen-year-old Gracie Gulliver (Kaitlyn Chalmers-Rizzato), vanished without a trace. Everyone expected Abe to solve her disappearance, but he couldn't. The failure destroyed his confidence and standing in the community.

In the present, a local teen is found viciously stabbed to death. His girlfriend, sixteen-year-old Caroline ( Sophie Nélisse ) hires Abe to find his killer. Abe, at this point a local joke, takes the case with hopes of grandeur. Everyone around him warns this is a grave mistake. He's not qualified or capable to solve such a horrific crime. Abe's search into the boy's life leads to a sinister conclusion. Willowbrook's darkest secrets are finally brought to light.

Adam Brody mesmerizes as a lost soul struggling to reclaim glory. The Kid Detective takes the time to establish Abe's character and background. His stumbles are both tragic and hilarious. There are laugh out loud, cringe-worthy moments. The guy is in epic free fall. Abe questions everything about himself. He thought he had talent and purpose, but was it all hubris? Did he peak in childhood? Abe's reckoning with his abilities forces him to re-examine his past. He realizes that arrogance may have led to critical mistakes in his youth.

Director/writer Evan Morgan is brilliant in his feature film debut. He establishes a daunting mystery without resorting to theatrics. There's no smoking gun moment or obvious villain. Abe has to do the groundwork, be a thorough investigator, to understand the scope of what is happening. This is no easy feat while fighting his significant personal demons. Morgan explores multiple themes with a deft touch. He sprinkles breadcrumbs for Abe, but let's the character evolve to figure out their relevance. The result is an ending that will knock your socks off.

The Kid Detective is a diamond in the rough. It's a small film that deserves to be seen. It takes a while to heat up, but delivers on all fronts once it does. Avoid spoilers at all costs. The final scenes hit like a freight train. I had to watch it twice to truly absorb the impact. The Kid Detective is a Canadian production from Woods Entertainment. It will be released theatrically in the United States by Sony Pictures on October 16th.+

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movie review the kid detective

The Kid Detective – A Stellar Indie Murder Mystery Dark Comedy

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movie review the kid detective

Overall Score

Rating summary.

In such a down year as this one has been for the majority of us, it is perfectly normal for audiences to want any reason to feel good. Luckily for us, The Kid Detective may just be the breath of fresh air we need if only to temporarily forget our troubles. This Canadian indie, darkly-comedic murder mystery takes more of an awkward and deadpan approach to the genre, resulting in a more often than not hilarious experience that also offers a surprising amount of depth beneath its simple exterior. That being said, the film and its sense of humor will certainly not be for everyone as it will ultimately go as far as the audience’s ability to get behind its titular character as it essentially rests on his shoulders for better or worse. Thankfully, the casting of Adam Brody in the lead role is definitely not a cause for concern as he brought to the table exactly what the film needed.

The Kid Detective  follows Abe Applebaum (Brody), a former highly-regarded kid detective solving trivial small-time mysteries, who has continued his practice off the back of his past success now as an alcoholic, burnt out shell of an adult. Despite all this time, the naive Applebaum failed to truly grow up, developing an arguably cynical worldview that was allowed to proceed unchecked. However, he would soon find himself in a very grown-up situation once a teen girl named Caroline (Nélisse) brought him a case, asking him to solve the brutal murder of her boyfriend. Over the course of his career, Applebaum may have earned plenty of good will amongst his small town as his passion for solving crimes was certainly there but his time as a detective wasn’t always an easy one, also earning some enemies. Unfortunately, this case was unlike those he was used to therefore it would require a level of self-awareness and maturity that he would need to grow into pretty quick.

Nevertheless, Applebaum’s methods, while questionable, were entertaining to watch as he awkwardly went about his business. Meanwhile, the challenges of being an adult and the outside pressure to grow up were still there as his methods were not necessarily effective now and maybe rubbed some the wrong way. In the end, underneath that exterior was a human being capable of feelings such as frustration, confusion, and self-doubt and those moments were just as compelling to watch. The Kid Detective  traverses a fine tonal line as it balances humor and drama in an interesting and nearly seamless way, offering subtle changes to reflect Applebaum’s character arc that saw him grow up over the course of the film. All the while, there was still the murder case which was not a trivial one by any means as it offered much more than what appeared on the surface. While that fine tonal line was a cause for concern come the film’s climax, it sticks the landing albeit a rough one.

Ultimately, the best part of  The Kid Detective was Adam Brody’s stellar performance as Applebaum. As mentioned, his casting was perfect as his awkward charisma and energy fit the role perfectly. Brody was never not fun to watch as he stumbled his way through the film as he was hilarious thanks to his deadpan delivery, with the humor working more often than not, while also delivering the film’s dramatic beats as the imperfect and damaged detective. While the film was him for the most part, the supporting case still delivered solid performances in their own right. Nélisse excelled as Caroline, the almost counterbalance to Applebaum, thanks to her great chemistry with Brody while Sutherland, as Applebaum’s wisecracking goth secretary Lucy, was a scenestealer thanks to some hilarious exchanges with Applebaum.

At the end of the day,  The Kid Detective  is a fun little tale that is worth checking out wherever possible before it falls through the cracks at it is definitely worth audiences’ time.

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Warning: SPOILERS for The Kid Detective .

Who killed Patrick Chang in The Kid Detective , and what does it all mean? Written and directed by Evan Morgan, in his feature-length directorial debut, The Kid Detective stars Adam Brody as the once-celebrated young sleuth Abe Applebaum. Now in his early thirties, dealing with hangovers and pining for his youth, Abe still continues to solve the same minor cases that arrive on his desk. Until, one day, he’s asked to solve a murder.

Caroline (Sophie Nélisse), a seventeen year-old high school student, is the one doing the asking. She wants to know who killed her boyfriend Patrick Chang, unconvinced that the local police have thoroughly investigated the crime. Abe accepts the case, at first with the self-aware reluctance of someone that has never actually solved a murder. And then, later in the film, with the urgency of someone who wants to prove that he didn’t peak too early in life.  The Kid Detective toggles between modes as well, initially mining the humor of a washed-out investigator who is in way over his head. As it progresses, however, the story heads in a dark direction that will likely catch viewers by surprise because of the relative lightness of what came before. It’s a mix of comedy and drama, with a touch of noir.

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By the end of The Kid Detective , which received strong praise for Brody’s performance and its balancing of different tones, the movie’s main questions are answered — but others are raised as well. Here’s how the story’s central mysteries shake out, and what it all means for Abe and Caroline.

Who Killed Patrick and Kidnapped Gracie?

Kid Detective Irwin Featured

Abe eventually realizes that it is Principal Erwin ( The Good Witch   star Peter MacNeill) who killed Patrick, solving another mystery in the process. Abe reaches the conclusion gradually, helped by all the information that he’d gathered over the course of his search. What ultimately helps him to crack the case, however, comes down to two seemingly unrelated moments. The first of these happens when the titular detective learns that he had been accusing the wrong person of a crime. Back in his teenage years, Abe had deduced that it was Rory Beans, a fellow classmate, that stole the school’s fundraiser money. But it’s casually revealed that Rory had been innocent all along. The second moment occurs when Abe looks over the origami-shaped paper roses, which Caroline regularly finds in her locker. Caroline had always assumed that the roses were a gesture of affection from Patrick, but she continues to receive them periodically even after his death. Abe remembers that the roses bear a striking resemblance to an item from an unsolved kidnapping that occurred decades prior.

Gracie (Kaitlyn Chalmers-Rizzato), Abe’s first assistant and the daughter of the Mayor, was kidnapped when she was 14. Abe recalls that Gracie would also sometimes get origami roses made out of paper, going to her home to confirm the fact with her mother. Armed with his new knowledge, Abe breaks into Erwin’s home through the window with the intention of confronting the principal. It’s not an easy task for Abe, who is shaking and stuttering as he explains how he’s certain that his longtime friend is the only one who could have committed both crimes. Erwin had access to all of the locker codes at his school, to inspect whether the teens were hiding drugs . This meant that Erwin could have been the one sending the roses. What seals Abe’s conviction, though, is the fact that Gracie disappeared only a week after Abe wrongly accused Rory of stealing the school’s money. Erwin had set the whole thing up, to test whether Abe was really the expert sleuth everyone believed him to be. Secure in the fact that Abe wouldn’t be able to figure out Gracie’s kidnapping, Erwin went ahead with the crime.

Seeing that Abe has finally put the pieces together, Erwin doesn’t bother denying any of it. He doesn’t express remorse for kidnapping Gracie, revealing the extent of his depravity. Erwin goes on to concede he murdered Patrick because he believed, incorrectly, that Patrick had been taking nude photos of Caroline and leaving them in his locker. The reason that Erwin takes such a personal interest in Caroline is because she’s the daughter he fathered with Gracie. Once Gracie gave birth, he left the newborn baby on the steps of a church. Being an educator, as he likes to refer to himself, Erwin couldn’t live with the consequences of his abuse scandal and the judgement of others. This is also why he stabs himself at the end of his conversation with Abe, favoring a painful death over having to experience the aftermath of his tarnished reputation.

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Why Does Abe Cry At The End?

Abe starts crying in The Kid Detective

The Kid Detective concludes on a potentially perplexing note. In the  movie's final scene , which mirrors an earlier moment from the film, Abe’s parents pay him a visit in his home. Mom and dad now beam with pride at their son, understandably, given that he’s figured out Patrick’s murder. Abe should be pleased as well, since he also discovered an adult Gracie hidden away in a locked outhouse just a few steps away from Erwin home. But, instead of being happy about his results and getting the respect he’s always craved, Abe breaks down in tears after just a few polite questions.

This ending is foreshadowed in the beginning of The Kid Detective . Abe warns Caroline that, no matter how simple a case may seem, the outcomes tend to be shocking. Abe later dismisses the warning, telling Caroline that he was being pretentious, but it turns out to be true. Abe is simply overwhelmed by what he uncovers. It hits him especially hard, more so than Caroline who has arguably found a measure of peace, because Abe is also effectively mourning the memories of his youth. Throughout the dark comedy, it’s clear that the main character is stuck in the past. In fact, because so much of the movie focuses on Abe, it’s not always easy to tell that the story is taking place in the present. Abe is reluctant to use social media , even when it could help his investigations. He talks about how great his town used to be, discussing memories of the local diner with fondness and bemoaning the way things have changed. Curiously, on more than one occasion, Abe reveals that he thinks being gay is still a giant taboo. Most of those around him, conversely, react to the same thing with a collective shrug. It’s another sign that he’s frozen in a different era.

Abe, in part, thinks warmly of the past because it represents his glory days. But, separately, the character still carries the childish belief that his town and the people in it used to be so warm and wonderful. He convinces himself that it was the shock of Gracie’s kidnapping that fundamentally alters the fabric of his surroundings. To learn that it had been Erwin who had done such a horrific thing, someone close to him, someone he trusted, it’s too much for Abe and it shatters the perceptions he had been carrying with him. It fulfills the warning Abe gives to Caroline. As the director Evan Morgan explained in an interview with the Three Angry Nerds podcast, it forces Abe to grow up. The moment fits nicely into the larger point that The Kid Detective makes regarding perceptions.

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The Real Meaning of The Kid Detective

Adam Brody in The Kid Detective Featured #3

The Kid Detective contains a subtle bait-and-switch. The movie presents itself as a twist on the familiar saga of a former young sleuth who has lost their groove. By casting Brody in the lead role, given his early rise to fame as Seth Cohen on The OC , viewers are invited to think of Abe as someone who was unquestionably a bright young talent. While that is part of the dark comedy’s initial appeal, that simple reading is complicated by the discovery that Abe was never really that great at investigations. In flashbacks, and even as an adult, Abe resorts to solving cases by making snap judgements. They might pan out. But, as we learn, he also falsely accuses of Rory of stealing the school’s money.

The true meaning of The Kid Detective , instead, unveils itself in the tense confrontation between Abe and Erwin. It’s about the space between perception and reality. At one point, Abe tells Erwin that he’s not afraid of him. “Nobody is,” Erwin replies sadly. At another, just before killing himself , Erwin attempts to relate to Abe. “We both know how it feels when nobody takes you seriously,” he complains. In these two instances, Erwin seems to be confessing that he got away with murder because the way others perceived him made him above suspicion. He was seen, like he says, as an educator. A good and trustworthy man. Morgan’s script seems to be calling out the dangers of relying too heavily on perceptions. It’s a message that occurs elsewhere in the film, as well.

During one scene, Abe confines in Caroline that it’s hard to square the difference between how he sees himself and how the world sees him. Caroline agrees, saying she’s not as naïve and sheltered as everyone expects. The same is true of Patrick, even though he never actually appears on screen. His parents describe him as a mild-mannered honor student. But, as the narrative unfolds, it’s revealed Patrick was cheating on Caroline and selling drugs on the side. Once more, the perception doesn’t match up to reality. Once again, this divide has significant consequences.

The divide is most evident with Abe, however. At an early age, he was put on a pedestal and regarded as an authority. In truth, Abe was just a boy who was given too much responsibility by adults that should have known better. Abe internalized that sense of superiority, confessing that he would often be awake at night wondering if he was the smartest person in the world . Later in his life, Abe is listless because he’s failing to live up to a perception that was never completely accurate in the first place. The Kid Detective brilliantly begins in one form and ends in another. Anchored by Adam Brody’s exceptional performance, and finishing with his heartbreaking sobs, the film isn’t afraid to pull the rug out from under viewers.

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Stream It Or Skip It: ‘The Kid Detective’ on Starz, a Darkly Clever Satire of Classic Detective Noir

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Now streaming on Starz, The Kid Detective is an entertaining film that failed to get any mainstream traction or even any underground-indie buzz when it was released last year. I guess that was 2020 in movies for you — a pandemic-derived glut of streaming options that all-too-easily buried a lot of good stuff in your content menus. Seems like this satirical comedy, the feature debut from Canadian director Evan Morgan, might’ve been a sleeper hit in an alternate timeline; so it goes, but it’s also fun to stumble over a little gem like this.


The Gist: Abe Applebaum peaked early. He used to be the Encyclopedia Brownish wunderkind detective who charged 50 cents to solve the case of the missing cashbox, or to track down lost cats. He was so intuitive, he spoiled movies by figuring out the whodunits before they even dunit. He was such a boon to the community, the councilfolk in his perky little town of Willowbrook even gave him his own office in their quaint downtown Main St. His receptionist was a cheerful 14-year-old girl named Gracie (Kaitlyn Chalmers-Rizzato), who he paid with bottles of grape soda. And then poor Gracie was abducted, never to be seen again.

Now Abe is 32 (Adam Brody). He drags his rumpled, sorry ass out of bed every morning and shuffles by some empty bottles to get to the bathroom where he glumly urinates. His parents are concerned about him, as they should be. He still has his office, now managed by a surly goth (Sarah Sutherland). He’s still finding people’s lost cats. He never found Gracie, though, and he narrates like Sam Spade would if he was in the cast of Gilmore Girls . He failed Willowbrook, which has crumbled around him — empty storefronts, graffiti, the air of a perfect little burg haunted by a 20-year-old unsolved crime. Everybody’s wheels are just spinning here.

And then one day this dame parks herself in his office. She’s Caroline (Sophie Nelisse), a grieving widow of sorts, a teen whose boyfriend of three months — an eternity for high schoolers — was murdered. They found him in the river with 17 stab wounds. Everyone sees Caroline as a sweet naif, and now her innocence is long gone. Of course, she has her tragedies, like we all do, but not everybody knows them. And now she tasks Abe the sad-sack self-pitying drunkard with finding her some closure. He’ll have to shake down the ne’er-do-wells on The Stoop and confront the nefarious Red Shoe Gang and navigate the seamy underbelly of Willowbrook. He has yet to solve a murder. But there’s a first time for everything, right?

What Movies Will It Remind You Of?: This parody of hardboiled noir could be a sneaky sequel to Rian Johnson’s debut Brick , which also seems to have inspired 2020 Amazon original Selah and the Spades .

Performance Worth Watching: Abe wears his virtues and flaws on his sleeve — flaws that self-perpetuate, and are increasingly dominant. Brody makes him more than just a recipient of comic schadenfreude, imbuing Abe with an existential longing that reveals he needs a purpose, and therefore has soul. We truly care what happens to this guy; somebody please refer him to a good psychotherapist.

Memorable Dialogue: Caroline explains how both her parents could have died while downhill skiing: “It was a very blustery day.”

Sex and Skin: Just Abe’s sad-ass bare ass when he wakes up dazed in a dumpster.

Our Take: Morgan successfully navigates a tonal highwire with The Kid Detective , sneakily allowing the darkness of uncertainty and the bleaker elements of the human condition seep into the cracks of a happy-go-lucky setting like a gas leak that doesn’t kill too many people, but poisons a bunch of them. We all know the idealism of Smalltown, USA or Canada or whatever — call it Mostly White People, North America — is a myth, and this movie reasserts how moral rot can set in anywhere.

Morgan funnels this idea through the character of Abe Applebaum, a man held in stasis since he lost his innocence at 12 years old (“I was so far ahead of the game, and one day I just woke up and was behind”). He learns a lot about himself retroactively — that he, the kid who was the apple of Willowbrook’s eye, is as unexceptional as everyone else. His fall from grace was a little harder than most. His potential for greatness went unfulfilled. The same folk who used to beam in his presence now sneer. Expectations weren’t met. And now he’s hitting bottom, drinking deep the dumpster juice of failure.

I’m making this sound like a downer. It’s frequently funny, especially in its specificities of setting and character; one of Abe’s signature private-eye moves is to hide in closets and spy on suspects, and in one amusing scene, he peers through the door slats watching a kid play Pong on his computer for hours and hours. All the details, many darkly comic, lock tightly together to tell a story about the secrets people keep — and how Abe is a man with no secrets because his greatest failure is public.

The overarching satirical-noirisms of The Kid Detective ring familiar, and the plot is a little too contrived at times, but Morgan makes sure the film delivers strong in the third act. It’s tidy, but then again, as the final shot asserts, it’s really not. Beneath the movie’s bemused veneer is an admirably realist core. Nobody here is laughing at a kid being stabbed 17 times. It’s laughing at how some might believe such things aren’t possible in their delusional bubble, or that true closure is ever truly attainable. Hard lessons; life goes on.

Our Call: STREAM IT. The Kid Detective is a real gem — clever and enjoyable on the surface, with a rich subtextual current beneath.

Should you stream or skip the darkly clever satire #TheKidDetective (with Adam Brody!) on @STARZ ? #SIOSI — Decider (@decider) May 5, 2021

John Serba is a freelance writer and film critic based in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Read more of his work at or follow him on Twitter: @johnserba .

Watch The Kid Detective  on Starz

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The kid detective

Found this movie accidentally on netflix and what a find I had. Never heard of this one before and I do dig whodunnits and mysteries. Its dark, funny and will save rest of the spoilers. But glad, i did watch this one and quite underrated. Best thing was did not see any trailer and did not expect what I was getting into. Lead actor Adam Brody was superb and as well Sophie Nelisse delivered good performance.

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Set in 1800s Italy and based on a true story, “Kidnapped” is so primally upsetting that you would think it would be unbearable to watch. But it proves intoxicating, at times nearly overwhelming, thanks to perfect casting, an economical and impassioned screenplay, and filmmaking overseen by 84-year-old cowriter-director  Marco Bellocchio , who might be one of the greatest living narrative filmmakers who is not usually recognized as such.

In 1857 in Bologna, a part of Italy that was then controlled by the Papal States , an infant Jewish boy named Edgardo Mortara is impulsively baptized by his family’s babysitter, a Catholic teenager. By the time the boy turns six, knowledge of the unauthorized ceremony reaches the local inquisitor Father Pier Gaetano Feletti ( Fabrizio Gifuni ). Feletti sends police to take the boy from his family, citing a Papal States policy forbidding Christians from being raised by members of other faiths. The Mortaras are told that the boy can remain with them if everyone in the household (including Edgardo’s six siblings) converts. Edgardo’s father Salomone "Momolo" ( Fausto Russo Alesi ) and mother Marianna ( Barbara Ronchi ) pick a third, agonizingly difficult path: let the boy be taken away and retain their household's religious and cultural identity while fighting church and state through the legal system and the newspapers, in hopes of returning Edgardo to his birth family and pulling the whole establishment down.

It's a seemingly impossible task. Time is not on the parents' side. The movie takes place over a sixteen year span. Viewers know not only that the wheels of justice turn slowly when they turn at all, but that human beings are psychologically complex organisms that don’t always do as desired or expected, and are malleable. Edgardo is raised within the orbit of Pope Pius IX ( Paolo Pierobon ) while his family visits him periodically. We see the child grow up in new circumstances and become acclimated to them (Edgardo is played by Enea Sala as a boy and Leonardo Maltese as a young adult). After an early period of emotional chaos in which Edgardo alternates dutiful attempts to adjust to his new life and impulsive acts of rebellion/rejection (there’s also an attempt to steal him back) he does eventually become a Catholic, and a devout one at that. (A pair of rhyming images shows little Edgardo hiding under his mother's skirts to escape the police early in the story, then later hiding under a priest's frock coat during a game of hide-and-seek.)

There aren’t many scenarios more fundamentally appalling than the forced separation of children from their parents. “Kidnapped” builds upon and complicates that sense of violation even as it keeps cutting back to the family pursuing justice. The movie also provokes philosophical questions that exist alongside the fundamentals without making them too academic and extinguishing their fire: What does one do when a kidnapped person says they don’t want to be rescued? If you try to pull them away from their adaptive circumstances anyway, against their will, is that kidnapping? 

“Kindapped” is also an astute study of power: how it’s acquired and maintained and exercised, and how poorly those who have gotten used to wielding it react after they wake up one morning and realize they’re about to lose at least some of what they’ve got. There’s no shortage of films about powerful organizations smashing individual families to pieces and the families trying to repair themselves and fight back, but few recent examples show the dynamics of oppression and resistance in such direct, non- denominational terms as "Kidnapped." The opening scenes of little Edgardo and his family dealing with representatives of the Church are upsetting not just because of what’s happening but because the representatives of the oppressors are, for the most part, soft-spoken rather than flamboyantly cruel. At times they seem almost embarrassed at having to enforce policies that their own organization devised and implemented. There are rules and laws, you see? And they have to be followed. No hard feelings. It’s nothing personal. 

Until it is: when a representative of a Jewish newspaper in Bologna gets an audience with the Pope and is essentially warned to knock it off, nearly as much attention is paid to the tone and presentation of the visitors’ statements as their substance. “Lower your voice and kneel down; have you forgotten whose presence you are in?” the Pope warns. Then he adds, “I could hurt you very badly. I could force you back into your hole. Do you remember when the ghetto gate was closed from dusk to dawn, or have you already forgotten?” When the tables are turned even slightly on Feletti by representatives of the (secular) legal system, he gets his back up at being challenged. “I would like to make clear that the decisions, the judgments of the Church, are not subject to any other authority of an inferior position,” he warns court officials who have come to interrogate him.

The movie depicts the 19th century Church as a corrupt, brutal, power-drunk organization that positioned itself as as a middleman between God and individuals in order to crush rival faiths, enforce patriarchy, guilt-trip most of the subjugated population into “donating” to them and obeying their edicts, and siphon off or steal material wealth and real estate. (Late in the movie, when it becomes clear that the Papal States are about to get smacked down by the secular government, the top bosses of the Church immediately begin discussing where to hide all the treasures they’ve amassed.) 

And yet not one of the frocked characters conducts himself onscreen as a mustache-twirling bad guy. They're shown mainly as bureaucrats in turned-around collars: company men. Pope Pius IX sometimes seems as if he’s about to turn into an especially hiss-able exception. But the way Pierobon plays him (with a childlike comportment and self-loathing undertone that evokes the late Ian Holm ) you get the sense that he’s not merely twisted by life among the super-powerful, but that he’s also got mental problems that will never be properly diagnosed.

All this material is presented by Bellocchio and his co-screenwriter Susanna Nicchiarelli (a director herself) not as a cooly observed case study in which bare facts are laid out, but something more in the spirit of a grand, tragic opera, or an epic movie melodrama from an earlier time that that would’ve been shot either in burnished black-and-white or feverish Technicolor, depending on the decade. Francesco Di Giacomo ’s cinematography seems to have been modeled on Old Masters like Rembrandt. There's a hint of Gordon Willis ’ work in the “Godfather” trilogy in the way that single-source lighting falls on clothing and faces. Fabio Massimo Capogrosso ’s busy, booming orchestral score helps unify a script that might have otherwise seemed too terse or schematic. It regularly reminds you of which side the movie is on (the “kidnapping, bullying and oppression are bad” side) even when "Kidnapped" is investing its most disturbing characters with complexity—and reminding you that just because the main players have been reduced to just a wee bit more than their plot functions in the interests of efficiency (the running time is two hours and change) doesn’t mean they aren’t full human beings. 

“Kidnapped” might turn out to be one of those films like the older classics it plainly models itself after, where, in the memory, you think of certain characters as richly detailed creations that you spent lots of time with, but they'd prove to have gotten just a few minutes’ total screen time if you sat in the dark with a stopwatch. The only thing I can say against it is that, its determination to get through it all as quickly and forcefully as possible, important part of the story happen offscreen, and other parts are confusing and the confusion is not always cleared up (though withholding the details of the early baptism until a courtroom scene near the end proves to be a masterstroke; it makes the entire tale seem even more tragic—and at the same time absurd). 

This has been a great year for movies so far, and "Kidnapped" is another work of substance and style, telling its story with immediacy and a palpable sense of anger even as it channels the work of past masters dating back decades, even centuries.

Matt Zoller Seitz

Matt Zoller Seitz

Matt Zoller Seitz is the Editor at Large of, TV critic for New York Magazine and, and a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in criticism.

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Film Credits

Kidnapped movie poster

Kidnapped (2024)

134 minutes

Enea Sala as Edgardo Mortara bambino

Leonardo Maltese as Edgardo Mortara ragazzo

Paolo Pierobon as Papa Pio IX

Fausto Russo Alesi as Momolo Mortara

Barbara Ronchi as Marianna Mortara

Andrea Gherpelli as Angelo Padovani

  • Marco Bellocchio
  • Susanna Nicchiarelli

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Stark County roundup: News from around the Canton region

Free fishing rodeo for children saturday.

CANTON – The Stark County Fatherhood Coalition and Stark Community Support Network will host a free fishing rodeo for children from 8 a.m. to noon Saturday at Cook’s Lagoon, 1819 Mahoning Road NE.

The Fatherhood Coalition encourages fathers, grandfathers, uncles, brothers, and other significant male role models to attend with their children. Mothers, stepmothers, and other household members are also welcome. Food will be provided, and the lake will be stocked with fish. Free bait and fishing rods will be available to children while supplies last.

The Stark County Fatherhood Coalition is a nonprofit, administered through Stark County Job and Family Services Division of Child Support. Its mission is to improve children’s lives by encouraging and enabling fathers to take an active and positive role in their child’s life.

For more information, visit the Fatherhood Coalition’s Facebook page at or call 330-451-8477.

Tour the Will Dent Center for Community Economic Development

CANTON – A tour of the Will Dent Center for Community Economic Development, 2021 Mahoning Road NE (former Huntington Bank branch), will be from 4 to 6 p.m. June 20. A free celebration reception with a band, hors d’oeuvres andchampagne, along with program highlights from the past year, will be from 6:30 to 9 p.m. at the DoubleTree Hotel, 320 Market Ave. S. RSVP to [email protected].

Summer Kids Movie Series begins June 17 at the Palace

CANTON – The Summer Kids Movie Series begins at 1 p.m. June 17 at the Palace Theatre, 605 Market Ave. N, with a showing of “Trolls Band Together.”

Admission is $2. Doors and the box office open at noon. A sensory-friendly showing of the movie will be at 6:30 p.m. The Summer Kids Movie Series offers affordable, family-friendly movies each Monday afternoon through Aug. 5. For a movie schedule, visit

Pickle Fest is Saturday

CANTON – The Canton Pickle Fest will be held from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday at Centennial Plaza, 330 Court Ave. NW, featuring a variety of pickle-infused foods, a scavenger hunt, a live DJ, artisan craft food vendors, artists and entertainment provided by comedians and performers from Krackpots Comedy Club.

There will be a pickleball and cornhole tournament. Enter to win pickle-themed baskets, a pickleball basket and a raffle basket. For more information, visit A percentage of the proceeds go to the Akron-Canton Regional Foodbank.

Gospel Joins Symphony concert is Saturday

CANTON – The Canton Symphony Orchestra will present its Gospel Joins Symphony concert at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at McKinley High School Umstattd Hall/Zimmermann Symphony Center, 2331 17th St. NW.

Gospel Joins Symphony is a celebration of gospel music, focusing primarily on Black gospel music and how African American culture contributed to the genre.

The concert will be conducted by Henry Panion III and orchestra Music Director Designate Matthew Jenkins Jaroszewicz. Enrichment of Stark County has organized the V.O.I.C.E. choir to perform with the orchestra. Gospel Joins Symphony will welcome several area church choirs to join the full orchestra.

Tickets start at $25. Veterans, first responders, health care workers, and educators receive 20% off. Children, youth, and college students may attend for free. For tickets or more information, call 330-452-2094, [email protected] or visit

Learn about women moonshiners

CANTON – The McKinley Presidential Library & Museum will present “Honeys of the Hooch: The Sordid Tales of Women Moonshiners” from 6 to 8 p.m. June 28. Tickets are $50 per person, and participants must be at least 21 to attend. Guests are encouraged to wear 1920s-style attire to compete in a best-dressed costume contest.

The evening will include samples of beer, wine, and cocktails, and a program by Science Director Lynette Reiner, who will share the importance of female moonshiners and bootleggers, plus the first female DEA agent. UnHitched Brewing and Cherry Road Winery will showcase their brewing and winemaking. Santangelo’s Catering will provide heavy hors d’oeuvres.

Pre-paid reservations are required. To buy tickets online, use this direct link: or call the front office at 330-455-7043 during regular business hours. All ticket holders must submit an email address upon registration. The reservation deadline is June 19. All proceeds will support the museum.

Movie at Centennial Plaza

CANTON – The Centennial Plaza Movie Series continues at 7 p.m. Wednesday with a showing of “Wish” outdoors on Centennial Plaza, 330 Court Ave. NW.

Admission is free. The movie will be shown rain or shine. In case of severe weather, the movie will be canceled. The Centennial Plaza Movie Series shows family-friendly movies at 7 p.m. each Wednesday through Aug. 14. For a list of other movies in the series, visit

Concert in Hartville on Thursday

HARTVILLE – The 3 Heath Brothers will perform in concert from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Thursday at the Hartville Kitchen Restaurant, 1015 Edison St. NW. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. For tickets or more information, visit or call 330-877-9353.

Animal show, Heart tribute show this week

JACKSON TWP. – Outback Ray and his Amazing Animals will be at the Nash Family Jackson Amphitheater, 7454 Community Parkway NW, from 3 to 4 p.m. Thursday. No seating is provided; bring a blanket or chair. The show is free.

Straight On, a tribute to the music of Heart, will be at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the amphitheater, as part of the Summer Concert Series. Doors open at 6 p.m. Parking is free. General admission tickets are $10, plus Eventbrite fees. For tickets and more information, visit

Bass tournament Saturday at Walborn Reservoir

LEXINGTON TWP. − Stark Parks will hold a Ranger bass boat tournament Saturday at Walborn Reservoir.

There will be a five-bass limit: largemouth or smallmouth. Registration will be on the day of the event. Cash only, $60 per boat. Registration begins 6 a.m., with fishing from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. and weigh-in at 3 p.m. Cash prizes to follow. All state and local laws apply. Proceeds will benefit the Stark Parks Ranger Explorer Program.

Massillon Cemetery walking tour Saturday

MASSILLON − Local historian Margy Vogt will lead a public walking tour of Massillon Cemetery at 1 p.m. Saturday. The stroll takes about two hours.

Vogt will tell short stories of 50 notable Massillonians, point out monuments and mausoleums, and talk about cemetery symbolism. The tour is open to everyone, and reservations are not necessary. The $10 fee may be paid at the beginning of the tour, which will begin at the cemetery entrance. Cemetery parking is limited, but participants can park for free on both sides of Erie Street. In case of rain, the walk will be canceled.

For more information or last-minute weather checks, call Vogt at 330-844-1525.

Lions Lincoln Theatre concert salutes Twitty and Lynn

MASSILLON – Twitty & Lynn: A Salute to Conway & Loretta will be 7:30 to 10:30 p.m. Saturday at the Lions Lincoln Theatre. Tayla Lynn and Tre Twitty, grandchildren of famed duo Loretta Lynn and Conway Twitty, have taken to the road to honor their grandparents in an intimate evening of music and storytelling.

Ticket prices are VIP $54; main floor $49; balcony $44; and wheelchair/companion $44. To order tickets by phone, call 330-481-9105. For more information, visit

Historical Society to meet

NAVARRE – The Navarre Bethlehem Township Historical Society will meet at 10 a.m. Wednesday in the education building. The public is welcome to attend.

Book talk, concert, food trucks in North Canton

NORTH CANTON – Author Mindy McGinnis will discuss her new novel “Under This Red Rock” starting at 1 p.m. Saturday at the North Canton Public Library, 185 N. Main St. Copies of her books will be available for sale and signing at the end of the program.

Sparkling Lion Champagne, a rock/pop band out of Dover, will perform at 6 p.m. Thursday on the City Hall front patio, 145 N. Main St., as part of the North Canton Summer Series. Food trucks Thursday will be The Teacher's Pet and Completely Cookied.

Music of Billy Joel is Thursday

PLAIN TWP. – The Plain Township Amphitheater Summer Concert Series starts at 7 p.m. Thursday with Michael Cavanaugh playing the music of Billy Joel at 2600 Easton St. NE. The amphitheater opens at 5 p.m. Tickets are $10 to $20, plus fees. Visit for tickets and more information.

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‘House of the Dragon’ Season 2 Repeats Same Thrills — and Mistakes — as Season 1

By Alan Sepinwall

Alan Sepinwall

On House of the Dragon , there are prominent characters named Rhaenyra, Rhaenys, and Rhaena. There’s an Alicent and also an Alys. There are identical twins named Arryk and Erryk (both pronounced like “Eric”). There are references to multiple characters named Jaehaerys, and there’s also a Jacaerys, whose nickname is Jace, though you shouldn’t confuse him with a different character named Jason. And did I mention that Jason also has an identical twin?

I appreciate that Ryan Condal, who co-created the Game of Thrones prequel with George R.R. Martin , has allowed his characters to experience the same level of befuddlement that viewers not already steeped in A Song of Ice and Fire lore likely feel about GRRM’s fondness for overlapping names. But acknowledging a problem isn’t the same as fixing it. In its second season, HotD remains a show that mistakes confusion for complexity, hurling waves of thinly-defined, often interchangeable characters at the audience, and hoping no one will mind because here be dragons — along with some fiery performances by Cooke, Emma D’Arcy (as Rhaenyra), Eve Best (as Rhaenys), and a few others. 

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With this theory, a HotD agnostic could find a reason to believe in the promise of this new season: If the civil war itself is the story Condal and Co. were really interested in, then perhaps once they got around to telling it, the series as a whole would find levels of urgency and consistency it too often lacked in the summer and fall of 2022.

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All this business about overlapping names and hues would matter much less if the characters were more vivid. On Game of Thrones , Ned Stark and others spent a lot of time telling stories about their respective family trees, many branches of which sounded similar to one another. But the people talking were so fully realized, and their conflicts with others so clear, that it didn’t matter(*). You cared about Ned, about Tyrion, Arya, Daenerys, Brienne, and so many others because the writing and the performances had brought them to life on a level which HotD rarely approaches. D’Arcy and Cooke are both excellent, and the idea of childhood friends becoming mortal enemies is the most potent one the show has. But the design of the story makes it nearly impossible for the two to directly interact, and instead they’re siloed off with more thinly sketched figures, like Rhaenyra’s petulant husband Daemon (Matt Smith) or Alicent’s cunning father Otto (Rhys Ifans). Some of the actors bring more than what’s on the page — Ewan Mitchell has an impressive physical presence as Aegon’s ruthless, one-eyed brother Aemond, while Eve Best has a steely resolve as Rhaenys, who would rather not be in the middle of this mess — but most of the key players tend to have one defining trait and not much more.

As the title reminds you, House of the Dragon does at least have an abundance of the great, big, leathery, fire-breathing beasties, and they’re on display early and often throughout the season’s first four episodes. But even when the direction and CGI are strong, it tends to be empty spectacle, involving people whom the show has provided the bare minimum reason in which to invest.

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The good news, for people who were happy with what HotD offered last time around, is that this is the same show as before, even a bit better in some areas. But anyone hoping for a substantial growth curve will find it as denied to them as the Iron Throne is to Rhaenyra.

Season Two of House of the Dragon debuts June 16 on HBO and Max, with episodes releasing weekly. I’ve seen the first four of eight episodes. 

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  1. The Kid Detective review

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  1. The Kid Detective

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    A character is beaten up at a bar. Viewers are tol. Parents need to know that The Kid Detective is a comedic mystery about what happens to a prodigy who's burdened by high expectations. Abe Applebaum (Adam Brody) gained notoriety as a child detective who failed when he wasn't able to solve the mystery of his best friend's disappearance.

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