There are certain films that you just know are Canadian after five minutes — they’re milder, softer, more congenial and eager to please than their south-of-the-border counterparts would be — and that’s what makes The Kid Detective, despite its twisty ending, such a mild piece of cheese.
The film premiered — where else? — at this year’s shaved-down Toronto Film Festival.
To its credit, Evan Morgan’s feature directorial debut isn’t exactly what its title makes you imagine it might be, a tale about a pre-pubescent Sherlock Holmes running around solving inscrutable mysteries in his placid but actually corrupt hometown. “I used to wonder if I was the smartest person in the world,” Abe Applebaum confesses wearily as he looks back on his golden years as a precocious crime buster, during which he allegedly solved more than 200 cases. However, his career was thwarted when he couldn’t solve the mystery of a local girl’s disappearance.
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Now 32, Abe (Adam Brody) improbably still maintains an office — you’ve got to admire his persistence as well as his hometown loyalty, where typical cases involve missing cats and dogs — but he seems definitively zoned out. This being an old-fashioned detective melodrama in format, there is considerable voice-over, and on the basis of his forlorn narration, old Abe sounds like a burnt-out case.
But then — you guessed it — a dame (Sophie Nelisse) walks into his office and turns his life upside down, or least wakes him out of his daily stupor; that will happen when a 16-year-old blonde announces: “Somebody murdered my boyfriend. He was stabbed 17 times.”
Thus is the stage set for The Kid Detective to turn something old into, if not something new, at least something a bit different and offbeat. There are intimations that Morgan would like to go there, too, as he progresses to rather twistier terrain in the late-going as the case’s actual elements reveal themselves.
Still, the writer-director can’t shift gears all that drastically, so we’re stuck with far too much cutesy, sad-sack narration delivered by Brody in a style that might be called seedy, seen-it-all Canadian. But while Brody gives the odd character a decent shot, young leading lady Nelisse acts with her mouth poutily hanging open most of the time, to blah effect.
There is some cleverness on display here, but the film’s ambitions are limited, to say the least, the territory extremely familiar, and the bright, spic-and-span settings quite the opposite of noir.
Stage 6 Films opens The Kid Director on Friday in theaters.