I should start off this review by declaring my undying love for the comedy troupe that is Derrick. I have avidly followed all of their internet shorts, which are hysterical. I also caught, by chance, their impeccable last improv performance at the Upright Citizen’s Brigade Theater in New York.
As for their leader, Donald Glover, I have seen his offbeat but hilarious comedy special on Comedy Central, and I made a point of watching him in Community (a show which I have fast become addicted to). And of course, when I first heard about their feature-length debut, I patiently waited for months until it made its way to and from Sundance onto home video. In other words, I’m a fan of Derrick Comedy.
So please understand that it pains me to degrade their good name – but Mystery Team is not up to their typical standard of excellence.
The story of Mystery Team follows a group of neighborhood kid detectives who have graduated from the cute, innocuous investigations of their heyday into a world of drugs, sex, and murder. The catch is, these three seem to have next to no conception of how the adult world works, and ater a new case is brought to their attention that is probably better handled by the police, the Mystery Team sets off to bring the perpetrators to justice. It’s a goofy, goofy movie that works in concept, but not as well in execution.
Similar to the great Saturday Night Live failures of the 90’s and early 2000’s, the problem with Mystery Team is that it falls victim to a premise for a sketch stretched too thin. Fortunately, unlike most of its SNL predecessors, Mystery Team is actually quite funny in spite of this. Even with humble, low-budget origins, the core member of Derrick manage to bring enough spirit to keep the movie afloat.
In another fortuitous turn, Mystery Team takes a page out of the Monty Python movie handbook. Akin to The Life of Brian and The Holy Grail, the film is actually comprised of a series of situational gags loosely held together with a continuous plot thread. This brings variety to the premise and allows for the three main actors to breathe a bit in the comedic space they’re most comfortable in.
To my dismay, however, Derrick refuses to really go the distance. Instead of totally relying on their God-given penchant for short bits, the movie leans on the strengths of the plot. The issue is that this story, while ironically far superior to any of the Scooby-Doo mysteries it apes, is simply not enough to hold a feature-length film. Then again, neither was the incredible goofy quest for the grail – but Python troupe was keenly aware of that.
Despite the 1 1/2 hour runtime, the film contains maybe 2-3 memorable scenes. This is quite different than The Holy Grail, where nearly every scene is both highly quotable and sticks with you vividly well after the credits roll. Of course, this is just the beginning of hopefully a long career, and not every Python sketch was hit – it took time for even the masters of sketch comedy to find their footing.
I understand it may be unfair to continually contrast Mystery Team with the best films in the genre, but I do so merely as a testament to their raw talent. Sure, Derrick has a ways to go before they are able to reach the lofty heights ahead of them in the sketch comedy world – but those heights are within their reach. I also draw these comparisons in light of the fact that many genre fans will likely do the same as they sit down to watch Mystery Team.
As for the actors themselves, any fan of Derrick will tell you that their sketches usually end up being the Donald Glover show. Whether or not this is a bad thing depends on your feelings about the scene-stealing Mr. Glover. As I mentioned earlier, I’m a huge fan and I didn’t mind him taking center stage. Otherwise, acting is solid all around, with a significant camp factor driving the performances from writers/stars Dominic Dierkes as Charlie and D.C. Pierson as Duncan. Aubrey Plaza as apathetic love interest Kelly also works well as a foil for the love-struck Jason (Donald Glover).
Though this is definitely the Cars of the Derrick collection, I look forward to their next effort. Scenes like the one in the strip club give me hope that one day, Derrick will realize their potential. Despite my criticisms, however, this film is still worth checking out for any current fans of Derrick. It’s also something worth investigating for anyone who’s interested to see what the new faces of sketch comedy could well be one day.
Be sure to check them out on Youtube, as well, where they store their old sketches and occasionally post up new ones.
By the way, I suggest avoiding the trailers for Mystery Team – I assure you they give away the best lines in the movie.
Verdict: Movie Meh (with potential)
A Note on The Case of the Haunted Hotel: The short film accompanying this film, Mystery Team: The Case of the Haunted Hotel, is a cute little short much more suited to the premise than the full length movie. I quite enjoyed it, and it makes for an excellent accompaniment to the main feature.