Mystery Team, 2009 (Dan Eckman)
I watched this movie solely because it’s the creation of Derrick Comedy, the comedy troupe behind a bunch of popular sketches on YouTube and whose most prominent member, Donald Glover, is one of the stars of Community. It’s a pretty average movie with a handful of funny scenes and many other pretty bad ones. Yet somehow it charmed me. Probably because Donald Glover cries and screams a lot, and wears mustaches.
The premise: three high school seniors are oblivious to the fact that their favorite pasttime, solving petty crimes as members of the Mystery Team, has long since worn out its pre-adolescent charm. Their parents shake their heads and wonder when they’ll grow up, their peers shun them, their neighbors revile them. After years’ worth of cases involving missing kittens and tempting pies torn asunder by neighborhood boys, the Mystery Team lands a case that falls squarely outside their limited competence: a double murder. But of course they’re up for it, this is their big chance to prove that the Mystery Team isn’t child’s play, although they are hired by a child, for the low, low rate of 10 cents.
My biggest issue with Mystery Team was trying to figure out its tone. At the time I wasn’t sitting there consciously thinking, “The tone! It’s so befuddling! It is a veritable zig-zag through my emotional fabric!” It’s like the movie wanted to go to dark places but didn’t have the heart to really commit to those ideas. On the one hand, the contrast between the innocence of the protagonists and the worldliness of virtually everyone they encounter (including ten-year-old suspects in pie theft) drives a lot of the humor in this movie. But sometimes I felt like I was supposed to be taking the Mystery Team’s bright-eyed enthusiasm entirely seriously, at other times cheering on the hilarity that ensued as the real, cynical world of the rest of the movie beckoned and forced them them to stop playing detective. At one point, as the bodies began to pile up, I actually wondered if these little naifs might actually die or something. It’s a tricky balance and sometimes the movie was successful, but I think it’s a problem if you’re wondering about what can and can’t happen in the little world the movie establishes.
I can get behind the whole big campy stretch that is Mystery Team’s basic premise, but other lapses in realism bothered me. Aubrey Plaza plays the daughter of the victims in the Mystery Team’s case; her role is to act like Aubrey Plaza and be Donald Glover’s love interest because There Always Needs to Be a Love Interest or something. She betrays no sign that her parents have just been murdered in the last week and the movie by and large sidesteps this massive trauma so that she can continue to be deadpan and, well, Aubrey Plaza. That was a little strange.
As for what I actually found funny. Well, the movie has quite a mix of humor from the crudest imaginable scatological humor to almost a comedy of manners with some of the disguises the Team assumes. Some of my favorite scenes featured a poor shlub the Team is acquainted with, and who is strangely obsessed with them; in their interactions his behavior becomes weirder and more erratic. These were some of the movie’s more bizarre and unexpected turns, certainly not essential but very funny I thought.
Several days later I’m hard-pressed to remember many more details about the movie. Suffice it to say everything wraps up nicely, and it’s an enjoyable enough process to get there, if flawed, and ultimately not very memorable. (Except for Donald Glover. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the other two protagonists, but Donald Glover is exceedingly memorable.)