With humor that's wry, dry, and sly, this mystery spins on reexamining the private detectives of the past by looking at them in a contemporary light. There's no doubt that young Abe Applebaum is supposed to be Encyclopedia Brown: His name sounds like it comes straight from Donald J. Sobol's books (the first one is even titled Boy Detective), as do the types of small-time cases he solves. And, just as Brown's bestie/assistant was 14-year-old Sally Kimball, Abe's is 14-year-old Gracie Gulliver -- and when she goes missing, he believes everyone expects him to find her. What would happen to a "boy genius" if everyone in a child's community, including adults, acknowledged that he was an exceptional prodigy, but then he failed to achieve when it really mattered? It's an astute concept, and it's easy to make the leap to the pressures that society can place on kids who excel.
Adult Abe glumly goes about his life, following a repetitive daily routine, spiraling in depression, and drinking whiskey for breakfast and dinner. His morose approach is reminiscent of Sam Spade and other gumshoes from the years of classic cinema. This connection might be lost on 21st century teens, but placing the story in a high school setting -- where Abe is sorely out of his element -- helps make The Kid Detective entertaining for both parents and teens. On the other hand, an honors student getting savagely murdered is pretty dark, as are some of the clues Abe turns up. While staying comically nimble, the movie's themes are mature. Still, it holds a worthwhile message for teens. Abe doesn't solve the mystery of how to to grow up painlessly, but, by the movie's end, he offers a clue.