DAILY FILM DOSE: A Daily Film Appreciation and Review Blog: SUNDANCE REPORT #9: The Mystery Team

Tuesday 20 January 2009

SUNDANCE REPORT #9: The Mystery Team

The Mystery Team (2009) dir. Dan Eckman
Starring: Donald Glover, DC Pierson, Dominic Dierkes


It’s a great success story for this trio of ambitious online sketch comedians known as ‘Derrick Comedy Group'. The trio of actors listed above and their director Dan Eckman have for four years been building a viral fan base via a series of youtubed comedy short films. On the heels of this success they have delivered their first feature to Sundance, screened last night in the Park City at Midnight Program.

Inspired by those kids vs. adults kids flicks of the 80’s (anyone remember “Cloak and Dagger” with Henry Thomas and Dabney Coleman?), “The Mystery Team” tells the story of a trio of teenagers who solve ‘mysteries’ around town for their local community. There’s Jason the ‘master of disguise’ (Donald Glover), Charlie ‘the strong man’ (Dominic Dierke), and Duncan 'the boy genius’ (DC Pierson). While this was a cute endeavour when they were kids, as teenagers they are seen by their peers as pathetic losers. Their latest mystery is their most challenging and dangerous, one which will test their dedication to their hobby and their bond of friendship.

It’s a very difficult film to crack. Using John Williams-esque music stings, Spielbergian camerawork, soft pro-mist filtered frames and heightened noir/gumshoe performances the actions of the kids are seen through the filter of their fantasy bubble of self-reflexive irony. Unfortunately everything comes off more like a corny parody of the Hardy Boys, or “Ace Ventura” without Jim Carrey.

Standing out amongst the “Goonies” wholesomeness are a number of ‘fucks’ and penis and pussy gags, which made me think, who is the audience for this film? This raunchiness combined with the TV sitcom ‘set-up and deliver’ comic timing are like oil and water. Is this an adult comedy or a kids flick?

The comedy troop hangs its hat on the same simple joke for too long before delivering the real laughs. At one point the trio enter a strip club and engage in a lengthy sequence of nudity and graphic sex jokes, including a farting milk fetish. Finally some edge we expect from a Midnight screening.

What started off as insufferable in the first half becomes mildly tolerable in the second. A number of gutbuster laughs, specifically Donald’s drunken party experience, and his burgeoning romantic relationship score some points. It’s all a little too late though.

“The Mystery Team” suffers from the same problems as Reno 911 and those Broken Lizard Films. There’s clearly some cohesive talent within the group, unfortunately too many misses than hits. Therein lies the dilemma of sketch comedy in the feature film medium – that unquantifiable cinematic element which the big screen demands and what makes the whole greater than the sum of its parts.

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