It’s a great success story for this trio of ambitious online sketch comedians known as the ‘Derrick Comedy Group'. For years before the film was made, the trio of actors listed below and their director, Dan Eckman, had been building a viral fan base via a series of youtubed comedy short films. On the heels of this success they shot and delivered their first feature, which was screened at Sundance. The film is a clever, though flawed, comic noir and already a bit of a minor cult classic.
The Mystery Team (2009) dir. Dan Eckman
Starring: Donald Glover, D.C. Pierson, Dominic Dierkes
By Alan Bacchus
Inspired by those kids vs. adults kids flicks of the '80s (anyone remember Cloak & 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 Dierkes); and Duncan, the 'boy genius’ (D.C. 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 strings, 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, most of 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 - a tone which never evens out.
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 cultish film.
What started off as mostly insufferable in the first half becomes mildly tolerable in the second. A number of gut-buster 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, but unfortunately there are too many misses than hits. Therein lies the dilemma of sketch comedy in the feature film medium – that unquantifiable cinematic element the big screen demands and what makes the whole greater than the sum of its parts.