Monday, April 4, 2011

Mystery Team

I made the decision to watch Mystery Team, a comedy that never made it past a limited release, for a few reasons.  The first is that I find Donald Glover pretty amusing on Community and very amusing on Twitter.  I don't pay much attention to either television or Twitter, so he definitely has the potential to to make a movie that (let's face it) looks kind of crappy into comedy gold.  The other is my childhood fondness for the Encyclopedia Brown book series.  This movie takes the basic premise from Encyclopedia Brown --- a brilliant child detective --- and twists it a little --- a group of formerly brilliant child detectives that have grown up, but still look at things the way they did as children.  I think that's a pretty solid premise for a comedy, don't you?  No?  Well, maybe you're right.

Lifelong friends Jason (Donald Glover), Duncan (D.C. Pierson), and Charlie (Dominic Dierkes) work together to solve childish mysteries (who stuck their finger in a cooling pie, that sort of thing) as the Mystery Team.  Jason is the detective, Duncan is the boy genius, and Charlie is the strongest boy in the world.  Or not; Jason just likes acting like a detective, Duncan memorized random facts from an old textbook, and Charlie isn't very strong at all.  It's not too important, though.  They spend their free time solving mysteries for children at ten cents a pop, all the while maintaining their childlike innocence despite being seniors in high school.  All that changes on the day little Brianna hires them to solve the mystery of her parents' double homicide.  This is their first and (probably) only chance to prove to the world that the Mystery Team can solve real mysteries, like real detectives.

So, what goes wrong?  Primarily, the comedy.  The way the filmmakers approach this premise is to have obviously grown men acting idiotically naive.  Sure, that can work occasionally, but it doesn't work as the only type of joke used for an entire feature-length film.  I bet the commentary tracks for this movie would be variations of "Get it?  We're acting like we don't know anything a six year-old wouldn't know!"  The jokes in this movie are about the quality you might expect from a Horatio Sanz-heavy episode of Saturday Night Live; they're overacted, pretty predictable, and would probably be included in the script for the as-yet-unfinished script for Boat Trip 2: Where Oscar Winners Go to Die.  Does the Mystery Team need to trick somebody?  Enter Donald Glover in an idiotic costume, complete with a bad accent and awful dialogue.  This movie has all the moves of a cartoon, but with sketchier characters.
If you can think of a joke for this scene, please send it to Derrick Comedy, because they're missing one.

The film is a product of Derrick Comedy, which includes the three stars, the producer, and the director (Dan Eckman).  Like most sketch comedy groups, the focus isn't on a particular member of the troupe, but on the joke as a whole.  And that's too bad.  Eckman's direction isn't too bad, aside from me not finding the jokes funny.  The story was told competently enough and there was never a question of what was supposed to be a joke.  The cast was less impressive.  I was saddened to find that Donald Glover was especially unfunny in this outing.  I also disliked D.C. Pierson and Dominic Dierkes, but I will admit that I laughed at a couple of Dierkes' lines.  The only other noteworthy cast member was Aubrey Plaza, who was actually pretty okay here.

The ultimate test of any comedy is whether or not it is funny.  Mystery Team is not funny because it doesn't really have many jokes.  The filmmakers assume that the premise of adults acting like innocent children in the real world is enough to make audiences chuckle for an entire movie.  It's not.  I will give them credit for telling a story and having a couple of jokes with their stupidest character work, but that's not nearly enough to make this movie worth watching.  I can only recommend this movie to people who like to ask "Get it...?  Get it...?" every time they make a pun, because they deserve whatever comes to them.

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