Alec at the Movies: The Kid Detective/Honest Thief

★★★1/2

I did something I haven’t done in a hot minute yesterday. I took in a double bill … at the movie theater. Lucky me, double the COVID! Jokes aside, don’t go the movies if you don’t feel comfortable doing so. If you do go – please wear a mask, socially distance and follow all posted safety protocols. With no further ado, here’s what I saw!

The Kid Detective

I didn’t hear about this one until a week ago while I was on vacation in Myrtle Beach, S.C. (more COVID!). Imagine “Encyclopedia Brown” (if you read the Donald J. Sobol children’s books or remember the HBO series from the late ‘80s/early ’90s) only grown up, burnt out and having developed an alcohol dependency and you’ve got “The Kid Detective” in a nutshell.

Adam Brody is the titular “Kid Detective” AKA Abe Applebaum. He was a celebrated child sleuth (played in his earlier years by Jesse Noah Gruman) who solved mysteries ranging from who stole the proceeds from the high school’s bake sale to who’d been robbing the local ice cream parlor. For his troubles he was awarded the Key to the City and free cones for life. The bloom is off the rose when his assistant – the Mayor’s daughter, Gracie Gulliver (Kaitlyn Chalmers-Rizzato) – disappears and Abe’s unable to help bring her home. He carries this burden into adulthood.

Abe, now 32, maintains the same office he did as a youngster. He has a new assistant, the uber goth, Lucy (Sarah Sutherland, Kiefer’s daughter!). Abe’s folks (Wendy Crewson (it’s always good to see the Mom from “The Good Son” and the First Lady from “Air Force One”) and Jonathan Whittaker) are worried about their son’s drinking and financial stability. The tides appear to be turning for Abe when teenaged Caroline (Sophie Nélisse) hires him to solve the murder of her high school sweetheart.

“The Kid Detective” is the feature directorial debut of “The Dirties” screenwriter Evan Morgan and it’s an auspicious beginning to what I can only hope will be a very fruitful career. This movie is assured, Canadian and Shane Black-ish as shit. It goes darker than it likely earns in the late goings, but it doesn’t stumble much as a result. Sharply written and strongly performed – I could see this becoming a cult sensation in time through streaming and cable rotations. Brody is an actor I’ve always liked and admired all the way back to his early days on Fox’s “The O.C.” He had a bit of a comeback last year with a solid turn in the horror-comedy “Ready or Not.” “The Kid Detective” is a real showcase for his talents that I hope leads to bigger and better roles and projects in the months and years to come … he’s earned ‘em.

4/5

Honest Thief

You’re either into “Liam Neeson:  Man of Action” or you ain’t. “Honest Thief” isn’t gonna waiver your favor one way or another. It lacks the visual dynamism of his collaborations with director Jaume Collet-Serra (“Non-Stop,” “Run All Night”). It lacks the humor and slickness of “The A-Team” and the heart and substance of “The Grey” – two flicks on which Neeson teamed with writer/director Joe Carnahan. It’s gonna make me an outlier, but I preferred “Honest Thief” to any of the “Taken” movies and actually enjoy those pictures in descending order. What “Honest Thief” has is Neeson doing the damned thing … and often, that’s enough.

Neeson stars as Tom Carter AKA the In-and-Out Bandit (Wet Bandits was already taken and this has nothing to do with burgers Animal Style or otherwise). Carter’s managed to earn his nickname by stealing $9 million from small-town banks without physically harming anyone or leaving clues leading to his identity. After meeting grad student/storage facility employee Annie (Kate Walsh), Carter turns his back on a life of crime. She’s charming and funny (referring to her gig as “paid study hall”) – he’s smitten.

After a year together, Carter wants to make an honest (pun intended) go of it with Annie and attempts to turn himself in to two senior FBI Agents – Meyers (Jeffrey Donovan) and Baker (Robert Patrick) – over the telephone. He offers them all of the money – he hasn’t spent a cent of it – in exchange for leniency. The veterans thinking Carter’s a quack hand the case off to junior Agents Nivens (Jai Courtney) and Hall (Anthony Ramos). The youngbloods see a clear-cut opportunity for profit forcing Carter to unleash his “very particular set of skills.”

“Honest Thief” is co-written and directed by “Ozark” co-creator Mark Williams. It’s only the second feature he’s made after directing the 2017 Gerard Butler-fronted family drama “A Family Man,” which I’d never heard of prior to doing research for this review. Williams’ script and style are both pretty rote. It’s fair to say his cast elevates the material. Neeson and Walsh have palpably charming chemistry. Donovan adds personality to the role of dogged investigator by toting a dog named Tazzie with him everywhere he goes. Courtney plays an evil prick with aplomb. Ramos conveys guilt and regret well enough that he’s hugely sympathetic. Patrick isn’t present long, but makes anything better by being there.

“Honest Thief” is a simple story told simply. You’ve been there. You’ve done that. It was just nice to see a potboiler programmer mounted by professionals on the big screen while I still have the opportunity to do so.

3/5

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