There’s something reassuring about the sunny innocence of the kid-detective genre. Who wouldn’t want to live, at least for a little while, in the happy universe of Encyclopedia Brown—a realm where mysteries inevitably get solved, good always triumphs over evil, and crimes range in severity from fingers in boysenberry pies to purloined baseball cards? Mystery Team, the winning debut feature from sketch troupe Derrick Comedy, scores big laughs from juxtaposing the brutal realities of our depraved modern world with the blinkered naïveté of three overgrown boy detectives stuck in the stage of development where girls are yucky, the world is simple, and adventure is awesome. The film moves its intrepid heroes from their natural home in life’s kiddie pool to the deep end; they’re paragons of ’50s wholesomeness locked in a perpetual time warp.
Community’s Donald Glover is terrific as the endlessly enthusiastic leader of the Mystery Team, an aggregation of ostensibly complementary crime-solvers (self-styled genius D.C. Pierson and dim-bulb pseudo-brute Dominic Dierkes are the others) who had the misfortune to peak at 7, when they were heralded as precocious savants for their mystery-solving prowess. As emotionally stunted 18-year-olds, however, they fall closer to the idiot side of the spectrum. They get an opportunity to redeem themselves in the community’s eyes when a young girl hires them to find out who killed her parents. This development plunges the overmatched trio into a shadowy world of strip clubs, drug dealers, and sinister conspiracies.
The troupe’s enthusiasm for the subject matter they’re spoofing is infectious. They care enough to get the details right, from the use of comically oversized magnifying glasses and fake mustaches as go-to props to the mundane semi-crimes the Team solves. Their respect for the detective genre gives the film a genuine mystery at its center and an emotional core rooted in the boys’ friendship and the tribulations of growing up and growing apart. Mystery Team’s plot-heavy second and third acts aren’t as riotously funny as its killer first half hour, so it helps that the filmmakers are genuinely invested in the characters as more than just joke-delivering vessels. Mystery Team is notable both for what it accomplishes—delivering a clever, satisfying, consistently funny comedy on a microscopic budget—and for what it portends. Hopefully, Derrick Comedy’s future will be heavy on Super Troopers and light on Slammin’ Salmons.
Key features: Audio commentary from the entire troupe, a gag reel and deleted-scenes montage, preproduction test scenes, and a short called “Who Is Wally Cummings?”