The film: Mystery Team (2009)
The Principals: Donald Glover (Jason Rogers), DC Pierson (Duncan Wheeler), Dominic Dierkes (Charlie Day), Aubrey Plaza (Kelly Peters), Bobby Moynihan (Jordy). Screenplay by Derrick Comedy (Glover, Pierson, and Dierkes), Meggie McFadden and Dan Eckman. Directed by Dan Eckman.
The Premise: Jason, Duncan, and Charlie have been best friends since they were in the single digits. From this friendship an alliance was forged – one based on the desire to help those in need. Using their combined skills – Jason’s mastery of disguise, Duncan’s boy-genius brain, and Charlie’s physical strength – they seek out clues to help right wrongs, use expert wit and cunning to thwart those who find themselves above the law, and deduce… deductions. Stolen bikes, missing pies, lost kitties – no minor mystery is too big or too small for these half-pint Sherlocks. Calling themselves The Mystery Team, these sleuthing squirts have managed to close every case that has come their way over the years, earning them fame and adoration from their local community.
Unfortunately, that adulation has now turned into scorn and ridicule. No longer considered revered servants of the community, Jason, Duncan, and Charlie find themselves bullied, laughed at, and made fun of on a daily basis. Even their parents roll their eyes with contempt. But why? Why would three boy detectives once heralded by their community suddenly become the joke of the town?
Because that shit is cute and amusing when you’re seven; not so much when you’ve got hair growing on your naughty parts and you’re about to graduate high school.
Still clinging to the youthful naiveté and childish mindset they’ve had since they were kids, The Mystery Team now find themselves at odds with their community – all the while unaware that they need to outgrow their Playskool business enterprise. Tired of being the laughing stock of their neighbourhood, Jason realizes the only way to restore The Mystery team back to their former glory is by proving that they can be real detectives.
Fortune’s retarded cousin has apparently been eavesdropping and decides to throw them a bone, because a double murder case just happens to land at the foot of their shoddily-constructed sales booth. When a little girl hires them to investigate her parents’ deaths, Jason jumps at the chance to take on a real case – despite protest from his cohorts, despite the fact that none of them have any experience with a mystery larger than “Who swiped old man Furly’s poo bag?”, and despite the fact that it’s the stupidest idea ever. It probably also helps that the little girl’s older sister is Aubrey Plaza, which is cool if you’re into that bug-eyes kind of look. And Jason totally is.
Now The Mystery Team has to try to stay alive, all while tackling the hardest case they’ve ever faced. It’s going to take every obvious disguise, every wimpy punch, and every nugget from the Book of Wacky Facts to crack this case. Jinkies!
Is It Good? Taking a page from Saturday Night Live’s famous character Stefon, this movie has everything – double entendre, cesarean scars, murder, bread love, satire, drugs deals gone sour, foul-mouthed juniors, toilet soup heirlooms, chocolate milk, awkward humour, lumberjacks, physical comedy, a female junkie with an oral addiction, bicycles, a guy in a turtle costume defecating into a punch bowl, and romance. And that doesn’t even cover half of what Derrick Comedy has managed to cram into this film.
With such a packed menu, one thing is certain – Mystery Team is a comedic gem.
First of all, just pulling off a movie like this and making it work is certainly an impressive feat, as it’s so easy to fall into the trap of simply stringing a series of skits together and hope the threadbare plot holds it all together. Or worse – hoping folks are so busy laughing at each set up and punch line that they don’t even notice that there is no plot. A lot of talented humour-makers with a background in comedy sketches make this same mistake when they make the transition to movie-making. But, Derrick Comedy manages to circumvent this and deliver a smart, well-put together flick. While it’s easy to see their roots in YouTube skittery as you watch the film, at no point does each segment feel separate or stand-alone. Sure, you can easily pull the film apart into its basic components and watch each scene individually in separate context and still laugh, but the as a whole the movie maintains perfect cohesiveness.
There’s a wide variety of chuckle-worthy material on display here, as I mentioned above. And though there is definitely some potty humour (quite literally in one case!), Glover and crew manage to keep it smart and fresh without succumbing to lowest-denominator buffoonery. A lot of that has to do with the fact that even the gross-out gags serve to set up a more intelligent punch line. In fact, in many cases Derrick Comedy manages to set up their jokes and gags in layers – with each payoff building up to another payoff immediately, or sometimes even moments or scenes later.
And that brings me to the heart of Mystery Team – the talented and funny comedians who go by the name Derrick Comedy. The funniest aspect of the film is their ability to consistently maintain the ridiculous naiveté of their characters through one set piece after another. The shtick never gets old or stale as they manage to find new and interesting ways to play off of it.
Glover is clearly the standout here, being given most of the weight to pull. He shoulders it perfectly and effortlessly, playing the awkward ineptness with the same skill that garnered him the role of Troy on Community. His timing is impeccable, proving that he can play off of anyone – whether it’s disguised as a Mexican plumber trying to infiltrate an after-hours company party or showing his awkward social graces in the company of his love interest. Glover also manages to balance multiple forms of comedy at the same time, like when the Mystery team is trying to execute a stake-out at a strip joint… all while at the same time trying to spurn the advances of the strippers. Glover tackles the physical comedy necessary, all while delivering sharp and witty dialogue.
Now, that’s not to say that you should underestimate the performances of either Dierkes or Pierson. Quite the opposite, actually. Both lesser-known troupe members are solid contenders in their own right. In fact, each one gets plenty of opportunity to show off their comedic talents by themselves. Not only do they each nail their material, but it later emphasizes how well all three play off each other when they share the camera.
The rest of the cast is pretty strong as well. Aubrey is Aubrey, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. There just isn’t much for her to do since her main purpose is to play Glover’s love interest, as well as the Abbott to his Costello (that just created a nasty image in my head). She does get the chance to get her hands dirty a little with the plot, but otherwise she’s just another foil for Glover. There are also a couple of familiar faces (partly due to their connections to The Upright Citizens Brigade Theater), while some of the cast are people who just happen to be friends with the writers of the movie. Surprisingly, they all do a pretty impressive job.
At this point I want to take a moment to give a special shout-out to Bobby Moynihan, who plays the convenience store clerk Jordy. I will admit, when he first joined SNL I couldn’t stand him. His characters were annoying and there simply wasn’t any performance that made him stand out as a solid player. But, over the next few years he finally came into his own and now he happens to be one of my favourite cast members. I’m saying all this because the man owns every scene he’s in in this movie. His efforts aren’t plain-as-day funny, but there’s a subtlety to how he approaches his character that makes me chuckle the entire time he is on screen. And he happens to deliver one of my favourite lines from the film.
With all the praise I have showered upon Mystery Team, I have to be honest – for the life of me I really can’t think of anything negative to say about it. Aside from Plaza character being somewhat wasted (not in the drug sense), I guess the only other thing I can knock the film for is that for what it delivers, it is a bit formulaic. You’ve seen plenty of comedies where the protagonists break up and go off on their own as they do some soul searching, only to come back in the last act and become stronger than ever. Thing is, there’s just so much Mystery Team gets right, that it completely dwarfs anything that might be wrong.
Final thought – Derrick Comedy managed to take the Three Stooges, Abbott and Costello, and The Little Rascals, put them in a blender, and make an R-rated comedy out of the resulting mixture. And it’s hilarious.
Is It Worth a Look? Selling folks on comedy films is a slippery slope. Everyone has different tastes and sensibilities when it comes to what they think is funny. One man’s guffaw is another man’s yawn. Even if the movie is widely considered to be a riot, if you don’t like the kind of humour that’s being thrown at your face you may find yourself living in a shotgun shack feeling led astray and a little ill-tempered that you just wasted an hour and a half without a single endorphin to show for it. But what the hell – you really should check it out (it’s currently only on DVD). If you honestly don’t like it, then the Emperor has already won. You were our only hope.
Random Anecdotes: All three members of the Derrick Comedy troupe started out at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater in New York before making a name for themselves on YouTube with a series of scripted comedy videos. Eventually their online fame led them to try their hand at making the feature film Mystery Team. As a result, each member of the group has managed to find decent careers in acting, music, writing, and/or producing. This once again proves that it’s possible for true talent to make it big outside YouTube, while FЯED’s success on Nickelodeon is clearly because Satan sat in on that board meeting and loved the pitch (that means two things).
Glover’s Derrick Comedy cohorts Pierson and Dierkes can be found popping up in cameos on episodes of Community, though probably not for much longer when Glover leaves at the beginning of the next season. Why do you hurt me, Glover? I loved you. We even share the same first name. I thought that meant something.
Cinematic Soulmates: Assassination of a High School President, Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, Observe and Report, Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, Super Troopers, Dumb and Dumber