The Cassidy Kids

In the movie “The Cassidy Kids,” there was a TV show in the ’80s called “The Cassidy Kids Mysteries.” It was a Saturday-morning sitcom in which a group of precocious pre-teens solved small-town whodunits, and it was inspired by a real case (real within the movie, that is). Now, 20 years later, the real-life kids who solved that murder are reuniting to record bonus features for the upcoming “Cassidy Kids Mysteries” DVD set. What was it like having a TV show made out of something you did? Was it weird to watch TV and see a character based on you?

This is a great idea for a movie, and half of the movie is great. We get to see over-the-top cheesy clips from “The Cassidy Kids Mysteries,” and there are some good laughs at how the show’s writers took liberties with the real-life kids they were basing it on, going so far as to turn one of them into an Asian purely for diversity purposes.

Then a question emerges: What about that murder they solved, the one that inspired the TV show? What if that murder wasn’t actually solved after all? Never mind what that does for the show’s “based on a true story” credibility; what does it do for the five kids who have lived with it all this time?

Of the five, only Dennis (Kadeem Hardison) is reluctant to participate in the reunion. He was traumatized more than the others when the police raided the home of the murderer, because he was there to see what went down. He never watched “The Cassidy Kids Mysteries,” and he has no interest in memorializing it.

He does, however, want to see Rebecca (Anne Ramsay), with whom he had a pre-teen romance back in the day. Rebecca has an unusual connection with the TV show: Her father insisted she get to play herself. She wasn’t any good, and she never wanted to be an actress, but it’s what Daddy wanted, and he wouldn’t sign the papers releasing the story to the network unless the producers cast Rebecca in the role of Rebecca.

The real-life Max Cassidy (Judah Friedlander), a bully back then and a loser now, has spent the last 20 years riding the success of the show, the way Kenny Kramer has capitalized on being the inspiration for “Seinfeld’s” Kramer. But even he knows that some of the “facts” of the original case weren’t entirely true.

And that’s where the film goes awry, as what might have been a perfectly good Hollywood spoof or character study instead becomes an absurd mystery. Tasca Shadix and Tom Willett’s screenplay is too ambitious, trying to weave a complicated tapestry out of what is really a very basic and implausible “Law & Order”-style murder story.

Director Jacob Vaughan does an admirable job with the frequent jumps in time — back to the original incident, forward to the present day — and the actors are up for anything, no matter how nonsensical. But it amounts to an uneven blend of comedy and intrigue in which the mystery element is ridiculously handled, the sort of puzzle where the revelation of whodunit makes you laugh instead of gasp.

C (1 hr., 30 min.; Not Rated, probably R for a lot of profanity, brief strong violence.)