Monday, November 28, 2011

Mystery Team

When I was a kid, I was obsessed with the Encyclopedia Brown books. I had a bunch of them and read them over and over again, even though I already knew the solutions to all of the mysteries. I totally wanted to be a know-it-all boy detective. Nowadays I've graduated to reading Sherlock Holmes and wanting to be a know-it-all man detective, but my affection for Encyclopedia Brown remains. Mystery Team is the story of a trio of boy detectives who steadfastly refuse to make the leap to man-detectivehood.

The Mystery Team were the toast of the town when they were seven, solving local mysteries for a dime. Now they're 18, on their way out of high school, and still dressing and acting like they're a group of plucky kids from a Hardy Boys book. There is Jason (Community's Donald Glover), the team leader and master of disguises (usually a mustache). There's Duncan (DC Pierson), the brains of the group, whose knowledge is mainly taken from trivia books. And there is Charlie (Dominic Dierkes), the muscle of Mystery Team, who is, well, not very smart.

The thrust of the movie is provided when a little girl hires them (still a dime) to solve the murder of her parents. The team, looking to step up to the big leagues, takes the case. They are then thrust from the world of cookies thieves and playground bullies into the seedy underbelly of society, where they try to remain willfully and desperately ignorant of the corruption, violence, and temptation found therein.

Mystery Team is written, directed, and produced by the comedy group Derrick Comedy, best known for their viral internet videos. Much of the humor in the movie is in the tradition of, say, The Addams Family, where a group of naive oddballs from a different kind of world are forced to interact with the way things really are.

There are actually a lot of laughs in the movie. The characters are funny, and the three leads are all really good. You can see that Donald Glover can totally carry a movie, and his chemistry with Dierkes and Pierson is a lot of fun. I dug a lot of the throwaway gags about the trio's state of arrested development, like how Duncan's thesis for a high school assignment is a list of all the dinosaurs, and Charlie's inability to say the right thing in unison with the other two. There are a few more familiar faces in Mystery Team, too, including The Office and Bridesmaids' Ellie Kemper, SNL's Bobby Moynihan, and Parks and Recreation's Aubrey Plaza.

You can tell Mystery Team was made for a relatively tiny budget. Most of the cast is made up of friends and family of the Derrick Comedy group. There are a lot of young people playing characters who should probably be older than they are. That's all part of the charm, though; that whole putting-on-a-show-with-your-friends feel of it.

Not all of the jokes worked for me, though. The movie leans a little too heavily on poop and vomit jokes for my taste (although admittedly, I laughed at a few of those too). The best stuff in the movie comes from their own childlike view of the world, but sometimes they push it a little too far past the realm of believability, like a gag involving Duncan drinking dog pee.

Mystery Team was directed by Derrick Comedy member Dan Eckman. He does a decent job for a first film, especially when you take into account the low budget. I know the movie didn't make much money, but I hope that doesn't mean he won't get another chance at directing a comedy. It has a little bit of a weird, off-the-beaten-path sensibility, it's certainly not a mainstream comedy. Mystery Team is the kind of movie that a college-aged comedy nerd would possibly discover and show their friends, which is exactly who the target audience for their videos happens to be.

And now, since it looks like I may have written more about Mystery Team today than I did about Kagemusha, I will leave you. My final thought: If you like comedies like, say, Wet Hot American Summer or The Brothers Solomon, movies that are a little bit weird, a little bit surreal, and a little bit filthy, you will get some laughs out of Mystery Team, but it's probably not going to change your life.

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