Initially I was really hopeful for how my part of the Den of Geek Mystery DVD experiment – which gave all reviewers a randomly chosen £3 DVD to watch – would turn out. I reasoned that this was a Mystery DVD experiment and that, since my film was called Mystery Date, the double-dose of mystery was a good sign somehow. Also, I’m a big Ethan Hawke fan and have been meaning to get around to writing an article about the awesome GATTACA for a long, long time.
Unfortunately though, despite the high doses of mystery and intrigue that were promised by the set-up and title, the film itself couldn’t get any more obvious and banal. The aim of the Mystery DVD experiment was to try and find cheap, unappreciated classics – of which there are a few I can recommend, like Joe Versus The Volcano and What Dreams May Come, which is emotional rollercoaster like no other. Mystery Date isn’t that – it’s just utter dross, plain and simple.
Cut from the same idealised teenage America as Ferris Bueller, Mystery Date stars Ethan Hawke as the floppy-fringed and inexperienced protagonist who’s got a crush on the girl down the road. To say simply that ‘he’s got a crush’ is a bit of an understatement though as, despite the attempts of the director to make Hawke’s teen romantic seem benign and condonable, it’s actually very pervy. He goes through her trash, spies on her with a telescope and eavesdrops outside her window.
The her in question is played by Teri Polo, a housesitter who’s new to the neighbourhood and who gets predictably swept away when Hawke’s older brother comes to town and starts styling his brother to win her heart. In the most pointless montage ever, we see Hawke get a haircut and sports suit, while his brother runs around acting strangely and being an ass in the background.
All of this then leads up to a series of quote-unquote hilarious accidents when the restyled Hawke gets mistaken for his older brother thanks to the new car, clothes and borrowed ID. Vengeful women, irate mobsters and even annoyed florists get thrown at the young lovers in an attempt to keep the story interesting, with Hawke always just managing to bumble through and keep the seriousness of the occasion hidden from his date – even when he kills a cop near the start of the film.
The plot is near universally awful in other words, to the extent that although I started watching the film with the best of intentions it eventually drove me to drink in an effort to numb the tedium. Everything in Mystery Date feels forced, shallow, somewhat reprehensible and dull – as if it’s been fumbled together from the mismatched scraps left over from other equally trite rom-coms. The only real joy you can harvest from it is in laughing at the hilarious out-dated sports-suits, hairstyles and clip-on sunglasses. Personally, I’m glad that I can’t remember much of the 80s.
The real culprit of all this cinematic crime is really the scriptwriter, though the blame really lies with whoever was stupid enough to finance the shoot. Since Mystery Date is obviously intended as a gently amusing date movie there really isn’t anything for the cast to stick their teeth into and even those of them who, like Hawke, have gone on to prove themselves capable of some truly fantastic performance (see: GATTACA, Training Day) are just doing the bare minimum. The same goes for the director too, who makes no attempt at subtlety and just points the camera at whatever is moving fastest on the screen.
Disc-wise, there’s no extra features at all either. A quick scan of the blurb on the box reveals a mention of the Academy Award nomination Hawke got for Training Day, which confirms that MGM has reprinted the packaging in an effort to sell copies off Hawke’s reputation. We can’t blame them – there really is no other reason to buy it.
If you feel like running a Mystery DVD experiment of your own and picking up a bunch of cheap DVDs just for the hell of it then do yourself a favour and rub Mystery Date off the list. Pick up a copy of Joe Versus the Volcano instead – a truly fantastic and deep rom-com that shows Mystery Date how the genre should be handled, even if it does contain three times the RDA of Meg Ryan.