Friday, October 21, 2011

Mystery Team (2009)

     I don't want to disparage Mystery Team (2009), because there are some very funny and enjoyable moments in it.  It is, however, clearly a work of collaboration and tends to lack a focus in tone, not to mention meandering away from the story for minutes on end to indulge unrewarding side stories.  The team behind it, Derrick Comedy (whose most prominent member would have to be Donald Glover or NBC's Community) are young and relatively unseasoned.  As such, that this is the result of their first attempt at a feature film is somewhat impressive.
     The set-up isn't new, with celebrated child detectives grown out of that cute phase.  Most satires and comedies that try something like this stick to the former boy detective (in my thinking, all child detectives are inspired by Encyclopedia Brown and not the Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew) and a side kick facing the reality of not having the skills to cope with real world crimes.  Mystery Team has three of them who worked in concert: Jason (Glover) – the master of disguise, Duncan (DC Pierson) – the boy genius, and Charlie (Dominic Dierkes) – the strongest boy in town.  Of course, as high school seniors, none of these titles really apply.  Jason has no aptitude for disguise (though much for sketch and/or prop comedy), Duncan only memorizes useless facts, and Charlie has done nothing to develop his strength since he was eight which leaves him as a bit of an awkward stick figure.
     The standard fare for the Mystery Team is figuring out who poked a pie resting on a windowsill to cool or finding missing kittens.  They keep handwritten (in crayon) files of their cases and regular suspects.  The standard devices of the child detective feel rightfully sad and desperate in these near-men, but they refuse to admit it.  Then a different kind of case comes along.  A little girl hires the three to find out who  murdered her parents.
     The group bumbles through their investigation, with mixed results in terms of how the humor works.  It is enjoyable to watch the boys succeed in spite of themselves at times, or to rely on what should be absolutely useless contacts to keep the investigation alive.  However, it is during the various encounters that the style and tone tend to vary wildly even within the scenes.  Even though the story is written with a clear leading man (such as the term applies), the sidekicks have nearly as much screen time until the third act.  Because this film isn't really their story, that ends up feeling like wasted time.
     The one real complaint I have with Mystery Team is that the boy detectives are all played as being kind of dumb.  This really fits one of the characters (Charlie), but Duncan should still be smart and Jason should be more earnest in his desire to solve all the cases the neighborhood children bring to him.  In the end, there is an attempt to mitigate the near constant barrage of gags letting the audience known these characters are fully arrested in childhood, but it feels forced.  It seems written into the script to make sense of the ending they envisioned. 
     Mystery Team may not be a classic, and it certainly isn't a masterpiece, but it does have some very funny moments (such as one involving a stop sign).  For anyone who has fond memories of Encyclopedia Brown and wants to see a twisted take on the boy detective, Mystery Team  should be a worthwhile experience for you.

No comments:

Post a Comment