‘The Kid Detective’ review: Movie’s biggest mystery is its own script

It’s a premise straight out of a CBS pitch meeting: A precocious former child investigator, the sort of scamp you’d see on a sweet local news segment, is now a washed-up adult helping old ladies find their cats.

“Gold!” an exec would say. “Call Jim Parsons! It’s a laugh riot!” You’d think so, but the new movie “The Kid Detective,” which stars Adam Brody as the womp-womp wunderkind, is mystifyingly dreary and colorless. Laughter and enjoyment is stifled by the constant question of whether we’re allowed to laugh or enjoy anything at all.

The titular detective, Abe (Brody), has a private office now that he’s around 40, and the design aesthetic is “The Big Sleep” without any clients. The walls are covered in newspaper clippings about his successful boyhood cases — a depressing reminder of his prepubescent glory days.

Abe’s fortunes change when Caroline (Sophie Nélisse), a high-school girl, walks in and asks him to solve the recent murder of her boyfriend. The descent into bleakness begins there, because writer-director Evan Morgan’s script doesn’t have the wit of, say, the TBS show “Search Party,” which ably turns youthful murder into mirth. “The Kid Detective,” by contrast, is rather sad.

Some left-field clues emerge: The dead teen’s best friend reveals he was cheating on Caroline, and there is a photo of the mistress, wearing a tiger mask and nothing else, in his locker. Abe wonders if behind his mild-mannered exterior, the victim was into hard drugs.

Up till now, the movie is adequate. Although it has the enthusiasm of a DMV hiring manager, it does meet the baseline requirement of detective noir, which is that the viewer wants to know who committed the crime. Brody, too, gives a strong performance that, while dry and subtle, is deeply personal. He understands Abe’s psyche in a way that only an actor whose best-known credit — “The O.C.” — is a teen TV series that ended 13 years ago can.

But, my word, the ending. The thuddingly abrupt resolution, and the lurid details that emerge surrounding the crime, come across as an entirely separate short film that has no connection to the storytelling or tone of the previous hour. A short film I did not care to experience.

Subverting our expectations is all well and good, but is it worth a whole movie crumbling to pieces?

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