The Smart Kind of Dumb
I want to laugh when I go to the movies. I know my reviews might seem otherwise — the way I tend to crucify so-called comedies. I’m just picky and subjective. I also really want to support small comedy groups just starting out. I adored Channel 101 when it was kicking out the jams of Lonely Island and some of the other hilarious, brief televisions shows. But the magic doesn’t work for them boys in the long form, as I would sooner suffer a broken glass colonic than rewatch Hot Rod or Macgruber. Yet, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who does digital shorts funnier than those Lonely Island boys. Usually, when sketch comedians try to stretch the sketch to fill 88+ minutes, the material feels stale. Knowing this and with a trepidatious heart, I approached sketch comedy group Derrick Comedy’s Mystery Team, a twisted take on a group of Encyclopedia Brownies who never quite seem to have grown out of their juvenile gumshoes. Sure, the trailer had a couple sick laughs, but was that all of them? Thankfully I wasn’t disappointed. It’s not a perfect slam dunk by any stretch of the imagination, but I belly-laughed pretty consistently throughout. It’s a deft blend of wicked satirical humor and scatological slapstick, shot for what looks like all the change in their mothers’ couches and a pack of Fizzy Skittles. That’s part of the charm of Mystery Team. It’s like watching a bunch of your friends make a damn cool little movie. And hopefully it marks the start of big things for the fivesome of Derrick Comedy.
The Mystery Team consists of three best friends: master of disguise Jason (Donald Glover), boy genius Duncan (D.C. Pierson), and strong arm Charlie (Dominic Dierkes). They’ve been solving neighborhood mysteries since they were seven, keeping the streets safe from bike thieves and pie swipers. Only now, they’re all seniors in high school up to the same shenanigans, which is rapturously pathetic. As they speed off on bikes they’ve obviously outgrown, Jason’s father mutters “There go three virgins.” They still drink chocolate milk, still swear with Lil’ Rascalish slurs like “shucks” and “heebie-jeebie,” and still hassle Old Man McGinty. As they sit at their dime store lemonade stand detective agency (double the cost of a psychiatry session with Lucy), a sweet little girl comes up and asks them to solve a mystery: Who murdered her parents?
The simple beauty of Mystery Team is that these guys actually add depth to their characters. Not much, but it keeps the humor fresh beyond just a simple one note like most SNL rehashes. And yeah, there’s plenty of over-the-top vulgarity and completely horrendous bodily fluid schtick, but for every minute of lowbrow, there’s at least three of just subtle smart riffing. Most of the humor comes from these three doofi trying to function in a world that mocks and scorns them. It’s exceedingly clever without constantly remarking on its own cleverness. There’s broadly drawn stereotypical characters, who immediately take the joke in a unexpected direction. There’s so much delightful randomness. It’s not going to change your life, but it’s a damn funny film worth your time.
It benefits from a stellar supporting cast, mostly people in awe of how unabashedly ridiculous these three twits are. Aubrey Plaza (April from “Parks and Recreation”) plays Kelly, the awkward love interest for Jason. I don’t think at any point you are actually supposed to take their attempted courtship seriously. She’s so bitter, angry, and dry, it’s a pleasure to watch her stab a pin into any moment that might otherwise be cheesy. John Lutz and Kevin Brown (Lutz and Dot Com from “30 Rock”) both have brief cameos, as does Matt Walsh, who is steadily becoming a solid go-to guy for little bits on movies. Even Bobby Moynihan, as vulgar clerk Jordy, is actually funnier here than anything he’s ever done as the destitute gent’s Chris Farley on “SNL.” But the props go to the three leads as young sleuths. It’s hard to figure out which one’s the funniest as they all pretty much take turns running with the football. Whether it’s Donald Glover vamping in a paste-on moustache, D.C. Pierson quoting one of the random facts, or Dominic Dierkes just being incredibly stupid, they all sell the characters.
Dan Eckman knows his friends well enough to just let them go, so he gets solid performances. It’s hard to be on a sketch comedy team and hide behind the curtain, but since the film was such a collaborative effort — written by all three leads and Eckman — he deserves just as much props. It’s not as outrageously funny as “Kids in the Hall” or Trailer Park Boys, but Derrick Comedy has definitely claimed the stage with Mystery Team. It’s the next project that will make or break them, but for now, they should just revel in glory of scoring on their first effort. It feels completely homemade but that just endears you to their goofy sense of humor. The film just came out on DVD, so do yourself a favor and check it out.