Zero Effect (1998)
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When I heard about the plot of ZERO EFFECT, the story of an eccentric and reclusive, private detective and that this part would be played by Bill Pullman, I was sold on the film immediately. Bill Pullman is a wonderful actor who I admire greatly and is always a joy to watch on screen. The part of Daryl Zero is a very tricky one and very few actors could pull it off, but Bill was simply brilliant. The scene where we hear Daryl playing his guitar and singing a song but don't actually see him for about three minutes was perhaps the most wonderful introduction of a character I've seen in any film.
Ben Stiller provides sterling support as Daryl's right hand man and Ryan O'Neal (nice to see him again) and Kim Dickens are also terrific.
There are so many great lines in the film, particularly those where Daryl is explaining his methods of deduction and surveillance. His explanation of the best way to follow someone is priceless, as is his explanation on how to find things !
This film is a pure joy and very refreshing. Go see it !
Ben Stiller, Ryan O'Neal and Kim Dickens all provide great support in this different but interesting comedy. It had a very good story, some interesting social commentary and observation. Not quite a thriller but for its acute observation, realistic characters and storyline, Ill give this a ***1/2 out of *****!!!
Compare Zero Effect to A Scandal in Bohemia.
Compare the character Zero to Holmes: 1. both use drugs 2. both play a musical instrument 3. both apply astounding powers of observation to solve cases 4. both use disguises 5. both are loners who rely on their intermediaries (Watson/Arlo)
In Zero Effect, Arlo deals with conflicts between his romantic life and Zero's need of him to function. In A Scandal In Bohemia, Watson has recently married and Holmes and Waston must deal with the issue.
The first line of A Scandal In Bohemia reads: "To Sherlock Holmes she is always THE woman."
Guess what, in the end Sherlock doesn't get the girl and he admires her as his most capable adversary. I guess Doyle must have a copy of Zero Effect stashed away somewhere.
Again, I will say I thought is was a fantastic movie. I'm not always a big fan of Pullman, but he was excellent in the role. If you are considering not watching this movie because you don't like Ben Stiller, well don't let that stop you. He takes his normal persona down a couple notches. Don't expect to see any traces of Zoolander or Meet the Parents.
For its cleerness, acting, story, and directing, I give it a solid "9" of "10", and one of my all-time favorites.
There are only a couple of criticisms I have of the film. The first ten or fifteen minutes seem to contain an entirely different style of comedy than the rest of the film. With Darryl Zero's horrendous guitar stylings and fridge full of TAB and tuna, I expected it to be an off-the-wall comedy or spoof of a detective film or something. The first time I saw the film, I was told how funny it was, and after I saw the ridiculous first ten minutes or so, I was constantly expecting the film to use slapstick and other such jokes. The film is funny, but if you go in expecting a comedy, or only a comedy, anyways, you're going to miss the emotional cues. Also, some of the discoveries and some of the trivia that Darryl Zero exhibits is a bit ridiculous. I mean, Sherlock Holmes, who was actually based on a real person, a college professor at Oxford, I believe, had amazing powers of deduction, but not even he could guess which bus Kim Dickens was going to tell her victim to get on. And I would also think that someone who does have the abilities that Darryl Zero supposedly has would never make up a job and tell that to one person, and forget that job and make a new one to give to someone else who frequents the same place as the first one!
The movie starts off with Gregory Stark, (Ryan O'Neal) who is the anonymously wealthy guy. Stark has now become the aggrieved recipient of blackmail!! Steve Arlo, (Ben Stiller) plays Detective Zero's business manager, Steve (Ben Stiller) manufactures a mystique about Detective Zero through a bastardized affidavit containing a bevy of counter culture mannerisms!! Arlo (Ben Stiller) presents a cogent case to Gregory Stark (Ryan O'Neal) that Daryl Zero's doggerel of accomplishments consists of numerous radical approaches and techniques which serve as a means of being the most effective method to "cracking the case"!! Desperate and annoyed by pecuniary depletion from a petty (yet stinging) series of blackmail tactics,Gregory Stark (Ryan O'Neal) is ready to give way to the unconventional!!! Consummation of this deal opens up the floodgates for an onslaught of nuances to surface which everyone in the movie becomes besieged with.. Daryl Zero's prescience is profound in his ability at pinpointing the perpetrator to this blackmail crime!! This film provides a precarious pontification to many different ideological premises for all parties concerned!! More importantly, it should be established that the trivial details and innate intricacies of everyone's sordid human nature, are far more significant to the plot of this movie, than the overall complications which pertain to this film's resonating end results!! The two OB's; observation and objectivity, guide Detective Zero in the direction of satiating his desires to resolve everything... This acute homogenization of deductive logic is what is referred to in this film as the "Zero Effect"!!
This movie is loaded with talent, the writing is particularly well thought out, and the innovative genre to this film makes it intellectually gratifying to watch!!! All is well, but ends well, however, it is not manifested in the proverbially neon accented format that people are accustomed to when viewing a film with a happy ending.. Everyone's aggravated afflictions are related to their environment, and, Detective Zero's concluding jeremiad, which establishes a mandatory closure on the whole blackmail issue, winds up getting categorized accordingly!! That being said, let's put it behind us, it's over, so why not just go sky diving, or attend someone's funeral or something!! Extremely well made film. It is Crazy with a capital "C". I am very glad that I saw it!!!
One thing I dig about this movie is that even though it follows the standard plot requirements of a detective mystery, everything comes across fresh. I was continually, completely fooled into believing these characters were not constrained by the requirements of the plot. I'm a sucker for mysteries, and used to settling into that mystery movie groove. I don't think it's a bad thing. But every now and then, one comes along that makes you forget there's a groove at all. And this is one of those.
On top of Pullman's 1st class perf. (I'm cracking a smile just thinking about it), Ryan O'Neal and Ben Stiller play to their strengths to great effect. I've never been huge fans of them, either. One of the reasons I chose to review this movie is that it took three actors I've never been incredibly fond of, and I loved it in spite of it. Loved them in spite of it.
Not to mention Kim Dickens, who is a revelation (she's gone onto a few other movies and a meaty role on the HBO series Deadwood). She's just excellent here. You can never figure out what's going on in her head.
If you love this movie, rent "Freaks and Geeks". The director, Jake Kasdan, directed several episodes of this classic, short-lived series.
Zero is hired by wealthy Greg Stark to find out who is blackmailing him. Sparks glosses over possibility and motive forcing Zero and faithful assistant Steve Arlo (Ben Stiller) to dig deeper follow a different tack to get answers. But wouldn't you know it a dame (Kim Dickens) greases up the works for the focused Zero as he ignores one of his hip Holmes axioms "passion is the enemy of precision. Still Zero pulls himself together to tie ends up, but he will never be the same.
Listening to Pullman drone on is like listening to chalkboard screeching as he listlessly deduces interminably making it hard to believe he could feel passionate about anything. Stiller's moaning and groaning flunky fares little better especially when going seriously dead pan after some spineless whining. Dickens and O'Neal also chip in medical examiner performances but when was Ryan anything else but flat. Zach Kasdan's direction follow's suit with lackluster composition and sluggish scenes (the gym in particular) that fail to resonate as Kasdan waits for Pullman to gather his off beat approach. If I go on about the six minute phone conversation climax it would be piling on. Suffice to say the title sums Zero Effect succinctly.
Unfortunately, there are some serious disconnects between the way the characters are supposed to behave and the way it comes across on screen. Daryl Zero, the famous detective, is both arrogant but also sweet. He is clever, but also stupid. He doesn't know how to act around people, but can pull off the most difficult nuances of human interaction.
Comedy is partly timing, and the timing is all off in the film. There are weird disconnects from scene to scene. For example, in a running gag, Ben Stiller is forced to fly across country back and forth repeatedly. The "straight man" bit never comes across well.
To cap it off, both romantic plot lines fail completely. There isn't a romantic tension, and without giving anything away... the ending was totally nonsensical. The casting and editing were pretty bad, but I would mainly fault the writing, and the performance by Bill Pullman.
Who should see this film:
-- nobody, even if you think you might want to
I'll give Zero Effect an awful 3 out of 10, which is the lowest rating I'll give a film that I could actually get all the way through.
The twists and revelations in the final minute come too late to save the film. Once the suspense the romance ends, it just doesn't work the rest of the way.
All of the characters, except by the one played by Ben Stiller, are either crooked or have no life or no conscience so it was tough for me to like a film that has so many unappealing leads.
Bill Pullman's narration was pretty good but there was little else for me to recommend this film.
I like mysteries because they engage the reader and writer in a battle of wits, where the reader's mind is always trying to be ahead of the narrative. Its the nearest thing to living in the future. It can be powerful stuff in the hands of an intelligent filmmaker.
So...student project: what do you have to do to Sherlock Holmes to make him work in a modern film context? Need to preserve the deduction, reclusiveness, probably the drugtaking, bachelorhood and of course establish a Watson of some type.
Here we have young Kasden's solution. The engagement here is not so much with guessing the story -- all is revealed very early. Instead the game is watching a movie that likely could have been great, and superimposing your own solutions to make it better.
Stiller and Pullman are good enough choices. But we see little of Zero's talent. Most of what we see is ordinary snooping. His haunted ruminations don't seem connected to the rest of him. This needed some work. Stiller's character too -- we have no idea why he is indispensable. Probably the one element of Watson that should have been kept is his daftness sometime prompting insights.
But so much in this genre is defined not by characters entering a situation, but characters who are defined by a situation -- and the situation here isn't very interesting. It has some promise, with a couple false conclusions, but no red herrings. Ryan O'Neal reminds of William Shatner. Horrible. And our mastermind female never charms, never seems intelligent. Dickens just cannot project that magic illusion of manipulating the environment according to some inscrutable plan.
I think this young filmmaker has some clever general notions about what works, but he seems to lack the talent or intuition to really make those notions sing.
Jake Kasdan directs "Zero Effect", an excellent but little-seen film which relocates Arthur Conan Doyle's now-iconic Sherlock Holmes to contemporary United States. The film's narrative is loosely based on "A Scandal in Bohemia", an early Holmes classic.
The plot? Bill Pullman plays Darryl Zero, a socially inept private detective who lives a secluded existence, locked away in the high-tech apartment from which he solves cases from afar, often without ever leaving his home. As he is "The World's Greatest Detective", most of Zero's job offers come to him from high-flying corporate types, who pay well and are willing to forgive the detective for his many eccentricities. Meanwhile, in his private life, Zero's a slob, recluse, seems to be nursing some deep scars and relies on assistant Steve Arlo, played by Ben Stiller, to act as a continuous middle man. Arlo does all of Zero's legwork, sets up meetings, interviews and attends events on Zero's behalf. Zero's philosophy is to have "zero effect", to remain "outside the world", such that "there is no feedback", "no contamination", "no trace effects". He solves crimes from above, a distance, through sheer mental computation, research, intellect and study, and intervenes directly, steps into the petri dish, only via his physical avatar, Arlo. As Arlo says to a prospective client: "Zero never meets any of his clients. He doesn't speak with them or for that matter communicate in any direct fashion. He never even leaves the house."
This modus operandi breaks down when Zero is pulled into a blackmail case which piques his interest. As such he travels to LA – a city romantically associated with private detectives – and sets about investigating. Hilariously, the case revolves something as trivial as a set of lost keys. But the mystery isn't important, and the film seems more interested in functioning as a character study. In this regard Zero meets a blackmailer called Gloria Sullivan, who intrigues the great detective. As Zero has zero social life, no social skills and is awkward around women, he finds approaching Gloria unsettling. She's based on Irene Adler from Doyle's "A Scandal in Bohemia", both clever women with a fondness for blackmailing powerful men.
At its best, "Zero Effect" functions as a love story about a damaged couple who struggle to connect. Take, for example, a scene in which Zero's painfully uncomfortable around Gloria; he all but explodes when she briefly touches him. Elsewhere the film flips several Sherlock Holmes conventions, with Zero (rather than Watson) documenting his methods himself via voice-overs and a combative relationship between Zero and his sidekick, Arlo, who can't stand the eccentric detective at all. There are other changes - Zero does amphetamines whilst Holmes did cocaine, Zero jams on acoustic guitars whilst Holmes did violins and Zero taps away at computers whilst Holmes prowled bookcases and ledgers – but these are all minor.
This was Kasdan's debut as a director, so aesthetically the film's a bit shaky. A lovably weird performance by Pullman, who was making a number of neo-noirs and interesting films during this period (Lynch's "Lost Highway", Wenders' "End of Violence" etc), makes up for this. The script was written by the young Kasdan himself (roughly 22 years old), and is well written, particularly Zero's noirish monologues.
8.5/10 – See another excellent Holmes film, "They Might be Giants". Worth two viewings.
The acting is very good, particularly from Pullman and Stiller, and the script by writer/director Jake Kasdan is good, with some quirky twists. Unfortunately he also has his main character, the brilliant Daryl Zero, make a couple of stupid slips to facilitate the plot. No fair! All in all, "Zero Effect" is an odd film - it's not really a comedy, actually coming off more like a drama, and it's very low-key in its delivery, which is surprising with someone like Stiller in the cast. And it's quite absorbing, not at all a "zero effect."
In any case it's a pity that now sequels were made. Perhaps, like so many other things, the stars went their different ways and the rights lapsed. A pity.
Pullman and Dickens' characters - Daryl "Nick" Zero and Gloria - had a great relationship developing. I really like the fact that, even though Gloria knew that "Nick" wasn't who he claimed to be, she still knew that he was being honest in his feelings for her. She never doubted that. That's a kind of understanding that you rarely see in movie situations like that. They always tend to make a big deal out of the "you were just faking your affection for me!" kind of thing, and then spending a tediously long time sorting out the misunderstanding. Very refreshing to have it handled more maturely and insightfully here.
I would have liked Pullman and Dickens' characters to have ended up together; there didn't really seem to be any pressing reason for their remaining apart. But the writer-director apparently didn't want the typical romantic cliché ending, and I can understand that (even though I disagree with the decision in this case).
While not a superb masterpiece, this was a good and interesting movie, which will be worth watching again sometime. Definitely a keeper.
7 out of 10.