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April 13, 2014

Mystery Team

by Franz Patrick

Mystery Team (2009)
★ / ★★★★

Jason (Donald Glover), the master disguise, Duncan (D.C. Pierson), the boy genius, and Charlie (Dominic Dierkes), the strongest kid in town, have been solving mysteries since they were in the second grade. Back then, their parents and neighbors thought their play-acting was cute. But now that the trio are seniors in high school, just about everyone, especially their peers, considers them as weird. When a little girl (Daphne Ciccarelle) whose parents are recently murdered, comes up to their booth, Jason convinces his friends that finding the killer is an opportunity to prove to everyone that their detective skills are no joke.

Based on the screenplay by the three leads, “Mystery Team,” directed by Dan Eckman, is disarmingly charming during its first twenty minutes. There is something interesting about the contrast between eighteen-year-olds being so fixated on acting like children and a pinch of something quite dark possibly brewing in the suburbs. Aside from the kid with an affinity for cursing on the playground and hanging out in a strip club, the most amusing scenes involve adults who expect the detectives to understand their dirty jokes and hand gestures.

Miscommunication often leads to frustration and accidental clues, leading to the next scene of more sleuthing and questioning. The sequence that takes place in the strip club is executed brilliantly. Jason, Duncan, and Charlie have no idea what they are in for. Apparently, nor do we. Some doors that the young detectives open reveal jaw-dropping imagery, it is impossible not to let out a laugh or some expression of disgust—maybe even confusion. This is not a movie for children who relates to detective stories.

However, the pacing eventually begins to slow down as if the material has run out of ideas. Instead of focusing on the mystery and providing us twists and turns, Jason starts to develop feelings for Kelly (Audrey Plaza), the little girl’s older sister, and Jason’s fear of losing his friends after high school. Kelly is deathly boring. When she is not pouting, she milks how big her eyes are yet there remains a blankness to them. Her parents just died yet she is more mercurial than devastated. If anything, it would have made sense for her to be really angry. I was at a loss as to what Jason sees in her.

Moreover, Jason’s attachment to his friends is introduced later in the picture but the subplot feels completely out of place. There is no weight in their arguments involving going to college and giving up detective work. Although the three central characters act like kids, if they were able to clearly articulate their thoughts like young adults beyond their years, the contrast between their appearance and words could have added much needed depth to the screenplay, thereby grabbing the audience’s attention and making us think that the story is more than just solving a mystery—that this particular case is special not because it is their first murder mystery but because it is possibly their last.

Instead, the whole thing comes across silly and inconsequential. The reconciliation scene is expected but it is so uninspired. Ultimately, I got the impression that the material is simply burning minutes which is tantamount to stealing our valuable time. Maybe the Mystery Team should have looked into that crime.


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