"Hit-or-miss -- but mostly hit."
Scientists predict that at the current rate, every sketch-comedy troupe in the world will have produced a feature film within five years. The latest to follow in the footsteps of Monty Python and Broken Lizard is Derrick Comedy, a three-man group from New York whose Mystery Team is, like the work of their forefathers, hit-or-miss -- but mostly hit.
And I love the concept. The Mystery Team comprises three naive youths who used to be child sleuths (think Encyclopedia Brown) who would solve minor crimes: playground bullying, stolen pies, that sort of thing. Now they are high school seniors and ... still solving these mysteries. All their usual suspects are 7-year-olds. They still operate out of a wooden stand in the front yard, and they still charge a dime.
Jason (Donald Glover) is the "master of disguise," which usually means absurdly fake mustaches. When the trio infiltrates a "gentlemen's club," Jason dresses them like gentlemen, i.e., top hats, tails and monocles. Duncan (DC Pierson) is the "boy genius," which means he memorized a book of 1,001 fascinating facts and strongly resembles Napoleon Dynamite. Charlie (Dominic Dierkes) is the "world's strongest boy," supposedly, but mostly he's just dumb and quiet.
The film's central joke is that, like the Bradys in The Brady Bunch Movie, these characters have remained frozen in time even as the world around them has changed dramatically. Despite being 18 years old, none of the Mystery Team has the faintest clue about sex or girls, or anything else beyond what they knew as grade-schoolers.
So it's very funny indeed when, as the film begins, they are hired by a little girl -- for the usual 10-cent rate -- to find out who murdered her parents.
The details of this story are irrelevant, of course. It has to do with business dealings and cover-ups and all that stuff, but the fun is in seeing these earnest but dumb kids, with their oversized magnifying glasses, stumbling around town looking for clues. There are many moments of high hilarity, often involving the Mystery Team encountering something more violent or sexual than what they're familiar with. The Derrick guys, who wrote the film with director Dan Eckman and producer Meggie McFadden, are fully committed performers who work smoothly as a team. They know how to make the funny.
What they could use some practice with, though, is knowing when to stop. There's no reason a film this shallow -- intentionally shallow, centered on intentionally one-dimensional characters -- should be 105 minutes long. This is a 90-minute movie, tops. A swifter pace, especially through the details of the murder mystery (which, again, is hardly dramatically compelling), would have significantly improved things.
Don't take anything out of the scene at the strip club, though. Few things are funnier than three sexless teenagers being annoyed by persistent lap-dancers who keep coming back if you pay them any attention. "They're like pigeons!" says Charlie. FUNNY.