Thursday, February 04, 2010

Mystery Team

I'm not going to say much here, so that I can get it up during my lunch break and remind folks that Mystery Team is having its last three screenings at the Brattle tonight (4 February 2010), and if you're in the area and haven't seen it, you really should; it's funny.

Mystery Team

* * * (out of four)
Seen 2 February 2010 at the Brattle Theatre (first-run)

Aw, nuts. Granted, it's not as if I'm likely to ever actually be able to produce Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators movies, but it's on my list of things that I would like to do if I suddenly and inexplicably wind up in a position of power in Hollywood. But now it's even more unlikely, as the folks at Derrick Comedy have gone and spoofed the genre and done it well.

Jason (Donald Glover), Duncan (D.C. Pierson), and Charlie (Dominic Dierkes) have been playing at being kid detectives since they were little, but what was cute at the age of seven is more than a little weird a month away from graduating high school. They're still ready to answer the call whenever any neighborhood kid comes around, although when Brianna (Daphne Ciccarelle) asks them to find out who murdered her parents, their first reaction is that they are out of their league. Jason persuades them to take the case, though, saying that this is their chance to be taken seriously, and it doesn't hurt that Brianna's older sister Kelly (Aubrey Plaza) makes him feel kind of funny. But if they look like fools to start with, imagine how much trouble they'll be in when they do accidentally stumble across an actual clue.

Suffice it to say, a great deal. Most of the comedy comes from the fact that most of the characters are clueless - the Mystery Team are bizarrely unaware of how to be more than overgrown kids, their pal Jordy (Bobby Moynihan) is almost willfully arrested, and others are dangerous in how little they think. The bread and butter, though, is Jason, Duncan, and Charlie, and to a large extent, how much one enjoys the movie is going to depend on how much one enjoys watching them make asses of themselves. A good portion of that is more cringe-worthy than funny, but there is some inspired lunacy - such as the guys misunderstanding who would be the clientele of a gentleman's club - and each bit generally leads relatively quickly to another, so that jokes don't wear out their welcome.

Combining dumb-guy jokes with a mystery is tricky; it often leads to such relatively unsatisfying turns of plot as the characters suddenly getting much smarter or the villains having to be even stupider. There's bits of that here, but Pierson, Glover, and Dierkes (who, in addition to starring, wrote the screenplay, with director Dan Eckman and producer Meggie McFadden also contribution to the story) do an impressive job of getting these characters to the point where they could actually solve it, going from blind stumbling to doggedly following a trail of clues to actually figuring something out. It's not entirely smooth sailing; one pivotal scene requires Duncan to show a lot more self-awareness than one might expect, even considering that he seems to have that trait in abundance compared to Jason and Charlie.

Especially Charlie. Dominic Dierkes gives one of the funniest dumb-guy performances I've seen in a while, no mean feat considering that his straight men aren't exactly much brighter. It's often a display of pinpoint comic timing, combined with a total guilelessness and just enough of an ache to be something he's not to keep us from sneering at him. D.C. Pierson also does a good job of making Duncan comically awkward and deluded but just bright enough to have some idea of what their impending adulthood means. Aubrey Plaza, meanwhile, shows us Kelly understanding all too well what growing up means, but also makes us believe that she could, in fact, warm up to these guys as opposed to just look down on them.

In the middle of it all is Donald Glover as Jason, a pretty nifty performance. Jason's got to be clueless enough for us to get a lot of laughs at his expense, but smart enough to make progress on solving a murder. He's also got to hang around kids in a clearly inappropriate way but come across as more harmless than creepy. Glover hits the bulls-eye almost all the time, giving us a guy we can root for as well as laugh at. He's involved in most of the movie's jokes, and even the cringe-worthy ones are pretty funny.

A lot of Mystery Team can be cringe-worthy; it not only spends most of its time making sport of its main characters but also has no trouble going for the gross-out humor. But even as the movie is comedically savaging its characters for their avoidance of adulthood, it retains just enough fondness for mystery-solving kids to make the whole thing a sunny, upbeat experience, even when it realistically shouldn't be.

Also at EFC

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