Often times, the earliest films made in a young comedians' career are the best. They're the purest distillation of that comic's voice, and there's always a feeling that he or she is getting away with something. Consider Steve Martin in The Jerk, or the cast of The State in Wet Hot American Summer, or Eddie Murphy's first movie roles. Many of them may have gone on to make movies that were better, but rarely were they any funnier. And while I can't predict the future for the five members of Derrick Comedy, I can say that their first film, Mystery Team, has the same sense that they've gotten away with something. When they eventually go on to have bigger careers -- and I suspect they will -- we can always look back at Mystery Team and see it for the special movie it is.
Comedian and Community star Donald Glover stars as Jason, the self-proclaimed "master of disguise" and leader of the Mystery Team, a group of three high school friends still living out their crime-solving fantasies from when they were seven. Joining him on the team are "boy genius" Duncan (DC Pierson), who actually just memorized a book of trivia when he was a kid, and Charlie (Dominic Dierkes), the strongest kid in town (he's actually not strong at all). When the parents of a pretty new girl (Aubrey Plaza of Funny People) are murdered, the Mystery Team gets its first real case. Now, if only they knew the first thing about solving mysteries...
The three lead actors, who all co-wrote the screenplay, make up three-fifths of the Derrick Comedy troupe, who created their own celebrity through a series of internet videos. The other two members are Mystery Team director Dan Eckman and producer Meggie McFadden, both of whom also contributed to the script. Though I was relatively unfamiliar with Derrick prior to Mystery Team, I was impressed with both the creativity of their concept (which is terrific, by the way) and the execution of the comedy. Everyone finds a different way to be funny. Glover, in particular, is a standout; not only did he co-write the screenplay, not only is he hilarious and utterly sincere in the lead role, but he also composed the film's excellent score.
Though the temptation was probably great to squeeze as many laughs as possible out of the central conceit -- naive innocents living in total contrast to the vulgar, scary world around them -- Mystery Team doesn't rest on that one joke. Instead, the movie demonstrates a willingness to try anything for a laugh, only not in the same desperate way that so many other comedies do. With Derrick, the mixture of high and lowbrow humor, the satirical with the absurd feels like it's all part of a single comic voice. Plus, the comedy is dense enough that the movie requires more than viewing just to fully appreciate them all. Thankfully, revisiting Mystery Team will be more of a pleasure than a chore.
The Mystery Team DVD contains some good special features, particularly for fans of Derrick Comedy. The five members assemble for a very funny, very informative commentary track that's nearly as entertaining as the movie and contains a lot of good information about first-time, low-budget filmmaking. A "making of" featurette is actually just a lot of behind-the-scenes goofing off, and it's really funny, too, as is some deleted material (alternate and extended scenes) and a silly interview with "Wally Cummings," who's really just Glover in character as Jason in disguise as Wally Cummings. The last extra feature is an early test version of the movie's opening, shot on home video.
I suspect Mystery Team has a long shelf life ahead of it, not just because it features several promising young comedians "way back when," but because it's the kind of movie people are going to be discovering on DVD for years to come. It's that kind of movie -- the kind you find quoting to your friends and trying to convince other people to seek out. It's a special movie, and one it feels good to pass along. I guess I've done my job.
- Release Date: 5/25/10
- Running Time: 95 minutes
- Rated R for crude sexual content, nudity, language and some drug material
- 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
- Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
- English SDH/Spanish subtitles
- Studio: Lionsgate
DVD Bonus Features
- Audio commentary with Derrick Comedy: Dan Eckman, Meggie McFadden, Dominic Dierkes, Donald Glover and DC Pierson
- "The Making of Mystery Team" Featurette
- Deleted Material
- Preproduction Test Scene
- "Who Is Wally Cummings?" Featurette