Thursday, March 18, 2010

Mystery Team

(Update: I interviewed Derrick Comedy for about Mystery Team. Check it out here.)

In 2005, the members of Derrick Comedy met at NYU and started producing short comedy videos for release on the internet. After substantial success online, the group decided to make their first feature film in 2008. The result is Mystery Team, a hilarious take on 80's kid detective stories that proves that the guys (and girl) of Derrick Comedy are here to stay.

Mystery Team
Director: Dan Eckman
Starring: Donald Glover, DC Pierson, Dominic Dierkes

In a quaint suburban town seemingly devoid of time period, a group of three former child detectives remains friends and still solves cases even though they're about to graduate from high school. Calling themselves the Mystery Team, the group dresses like overgrown children (Donald Glover's character buttons the top button of his polo shirt; DC Pierson's character has a perpetual bowl cut), still charges ten cents per case, and are berated by their schoolmates and teachers for not growing up. The group communicates via walkie-talkie, and even has a crude wooden stand set up in the front lawn with a hand-painted sign detailing their mantra: "No case too small, no case too tough."

There's Jason (Glover) the master of disguise; Duncan (Pierson), the boy genius; and Charlie (Dierkes), the strongest kid in town. When the Mystery Team gets a case from a young girl and her sister, they are shocked to discover this case isn't something simple like who stuck a finger in a pie (a case they solved early in the movie): the girls' parents have been murdered. The trio decides this is their chance to solve a serious case and prove to everyone that they're "real detectives."

This movie has a brilliant mix of innocence and filthy language. The dichotomy between these characters (who have never said a swear word before) and the ridiculous situations they get into, including run-ins with drug dealers, strippers, and psychotic corrupt employees, is fresh and original. Mystery Team feels like a Steven Spielberg movie from the mid-80's (or a flick with a similar tone, Monster Squad), but instead of keeping that innocence throughout, it's given an R-rated injection. Obviously, fans of Derrick Comedy will know what kind of humor to expect and will surely be pleased with the movie.

Donald Glover's performance is infectious and hilarious - with "Community" renewed for a second season and his Comedy Central stand-up act hitting the airwaves a few nights ago, he is poised to break into the next level of stardom. The rest of the cast, including guest spots from Aubrey Plaza ("Parks and Recreation"), Bobby Moynihan ("Saturday Night Live"), Ellie Kemper (Erin from "The Office"), and charismatic actor/comedian Matt Walsh, fit in perfectly with the universe created for this movie.

As far as complaints go, I felt like Charlie's character was a bit underwritten, but he was clearly the comic relief and didn't really need a huge backstory or important arc of his own. Also, Moynihan's character felt a bit incomplete, but that's because he was only able to film for a few hours over the course of one day for the production.

Director Dan Eckman did a good job of making the film feel cinematic, a task none too easy for a group known for their short online videos. My favorite shot in the movie, a long tracking shot on baseball field, was particularly impressive. There is, perhaps, and over-reliance on rack focus shots, but I feel like that's a typical crutch for first-time directors (I'm guilty of this as well) and I think it's an issue that I'm sure Eckman will correct with his next project.

If you're looking for a fresh R-rated comedy, here's your solution. I can't wait to see what these guys (and girl) put out next. Until next time...

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