Mystery Team, released in 2009, is the first feature film from the Derrick Comedy group. I’m unfamiliar with the group, but it’s pretty obvious this film was a personal project for the members, as of the five writers on the story, one directs, and the others all act in the picture (though Meggie McFadden’s role must have been fairly small, as I don’t remember her character Cathy. I do remember director Dan Eckman’s cameo as the bread squeezer, though.)
The Mystery Team in the title is a trio of young adults who, as children, were local “heroes” for solving minor mysteries for other children and the occasional adult. On the verge of graduating high school, they’re still at it, and still charging a dime to track down a missing toy or find out who vandalized a pie. And then one day a little girl (Daphne Ciccarelle) pays them a dime to find out who killed her parents.
This is what it looks like when someone is completely out of their depth.
The Mystery Team are used to petty crimes of the sort of that Encyclopedia Brown usually solved; this case is more on the order of something faced by the Three Investigators, who at least occasionally had to deal with murders and serious crimes. And the crew of the Mystery Team do seem to be patterned after the same mold as the Three Investigators, with a leader, a brain, and a muscle. But, this being a comedy, they’re all woefully incompetent at their roles. Each is played by one of the screenplay writers. Charlie (Dominic Dierkes), the “strongest kid in Oakdale”, may have been a tough kid, but as an adult he’s a 90-pound weakling — and doesn’t make up for it in the intelligence department, being the dimmest of a dim group. Duncan (D.C. Pierson), “boy genius”, is only considered a genius by the others in the group, for having memorized a trivia book in second grade; it’s incredibly out of date, and his ability to reason things out on his own leads to him drinking dog urine at one point. And yes, he is the smart one of the bunch. Their leader is Jason (Donald Glover), a “master of disguise” whose disguises seldom fool anyone, because they’re very poorly thought out.
Their disguises for infiltrating a “gentleman’s club”. The level of humor is all downhill from here.
There are a few decent acting performances in the film, from Aubrey Plaza who plays the older sister of their “client”, Peter Saati as a thug, Glenn Kalison as a friendly neighbor… but nothing to write home about. And the protagonists are well-acted… but their characters are unbelievable, and not in a good way. Every tired, tortuously unfunny cliche about dimwits, dweebs, and social misfits is trotted out in the expectation of a laugh, and most of these cliches weren’t funny the first time I saw them, which was usually close to thirty years ago. The closest I really came to laughing was at Bobby Moynihan’s stoner slacker character, and even that was fairly familiar. But for the most part, the audience is watching the pathetic man-children that are the Mystery Team, and it’s non-stop cringe comedy and gross-out humor the whole way. It certainly succeeded at making me cringe and grossing me out, but it didn’t raise a smile out of me, let alone a laugh — and I’m hard pressed to think why it would be expected to. It’s possible (though rare) for such jokes to be funny, but there has to be an actual joke constructed around the cringes and gross-outs; it involves timing, set-up, a degree of irony, something beyond just being gross. This film has nothing.
Also, as a mystery, I’m afraid I solved it about 20 minutes in, before the killer was even shown on screen for the first time. Not joking, there. I’ll grant it was from being genre savvy rather than from any clues, but that’s really more of a detriment to a mystery than otherwise.
The basic premise of the film has some merits; the idea of lampooning Encyclopedia Brown, The Three Investigators, and other boy detective stories has some definite comedic potential. It just wasn’t developed well here at all.