Mystery Team is the result of a lot of hard work and monetary investment from a little group called Derrick Comedy. Featuring familiar faces like The Office‘s Ellie Kemper (a.k.a. the internet’s Blowjob Girl) and the endearingly morose Aubrey Plaza (Parks & Recreation) this movie is the product of a bunch of good friends getting together and collaborating on an exceedingly fun and goofily eccentric concept. Based off their favorite junior detective mystery novels growing up, Mystery Team asks the question, what if Encyclopedia Brown never really grew up? Take one part Hardy Boys, one part Scooby Doo and mix it with the stark reality of gritty street crime, and you’ll have the basic tenets of Mystery Team.
The real star here is Community‘s Donald Glover. Though the titular Mystery Team consists of three equally dorky members, Glover’s performance as Jason is the only one that struck me as memorable. The other two characters each have a gimmick; Duncan is an all-grown-up boy genius (a comedy trope utilized to better success in popular animated masterpiece The Venture Bros.) and Charlie is “the strongest kid in town,” although he isn’t very strong. It’s a fairly conventional comedic device to set up a statement and then ironically deny it to produce laughs, but when two of your three main characters begin to blend into the wallpaper, it raises some concerns. It’s not just that their schtick is noticeably less funny than Glover’s, whose delightfully hammy over-acting as a “master of disguise” is a perfect blend of nerdy and charming- it’s also the fact that his teammates’ acting chops aren’t up to par. Glover acts circles around his compatriots, making it less of a Mystery Team and more of a solo detective story with two relatively annoying sidekicks. The sidekicks occasionally get a good bit or two, but it really depends on how much you enjoy bloody noses and pee-drinking jokes (and if I know my audience, that’s plenty!).
Ellie Kemper is remarkably underused considering her talent, and Aubrey Plaza is lovably awkward as usual. The truth is that Glover’s charm is so charismatic, all of the movie’s low-budget flaws melt away. There’s a great cameo by SNL‘s Bobby Moynihan as a likeable yet semi-creepy store clerk, but beyond that, this is Glover’s show. The plot unravels in typical children’s mystery format, i.e. the characters can reason out the mystery based on internal clues, but there is no chance for the audience to figure it out at home. Which is fine, seeing as this movie is primarily gunning for laughs, but again, if your movie is about a Team, you might want to include more interesting team dynamics from the beginning. Since the other two members are so inept, the movie basically wanders from set piece to set piece waiting for Glover to do something insane to liven it up a little. The end result is a surprisingly funny comedy that is definitely worth a rental. As the stakes escalate, our former boy detectives find themselves fearing for their lives, pitted against real-world criminals in a battle of wits. Fans of the now-defunct Party Down will excuse the metaphor, but Mystery Team is like a crock-pot. It’s a slow burn, and by the end you’ll have fallen in love without even realizing it.