Zero Effect (1998) Jake Kasdan

Production Budget: $5 million

Domestic Gross: about $2 million

The story is about the world’s greatest private investigator Daryl Zero (Bill Pullman) who is helped by his aide Steve Arlo (Ben Stiller). A shady industrialist (played by Ryan O’Neal) hires Zero to investigate who is blackmailing him but gives no details of why he is being blackmailed. Zero finds out who is doing the blackmailing, but he wants to find out what is going on.

This has been a personal fav of mine for quite some time. This is a small project but everything fires on all cylinders and I love it. What is especially odd is I usually rag on movies being bipolar in their tone but for some reason it works here in Zero Effect. They handle both good comedy and drama and you never feel the same whiplash you would with say Hancock. I guess it could be because the comedy is not so goofy odd ball campy. The comedy is a little more grounded so when they make the switch to gripping drama it is not so drastic. But still I have to give the writers credit.

Daryl Zero is like a little Sherlock Holmes mixed with some Monk-ish quirks and some agoraphobia thrown in for good measure. When he is on the job he is the man but off hours he is a nervous wreck. We can chuckle when he and Arlo have a covert conversation on two public phones sitting right next to one another and at the same time feel bad for Zero when he opens up as to why he is so private.

This is a very funny movie though. I can’t really go into big jokes cause there are none. There are just a lot of good dialog that goes on you enjoy all the way through. For example there is a running joke about Zero doing research on Stark and finds a poem he wrote in college. Zero gets fixated on the fact that Stark screws up and how the words “towards” and “birds” don’t rhyme. Or how Zero is writing his memoirs and he gives little pearls of wisdom like “ Now, a few words on looking for things. When you go looking for something specific, your chances of finding it are very bad. Because of all the things in the world, you’re only looking for one of them. When you go looking for anything at all, your chances of finding it are very good. Because of all the things in the world, you’re sure to find some of them. “

The main plot is also very well written and interesting all the way through. A nice idea is finding out who the blackmailer is almost right off the bat and having the mystery be the motive. There is no bullsh*t twist ending or some lame reveal. Instead we are shocked by the character’s actions and drawn into the motivations. Gloria is a completely fleshed out character we care for and what we come to find about Stark is shocking. This is usually the part of the movie that falters but it is one of the stronger traits Zero Effect has.

The acting is all around great. Pullman does a good job playing both the smooth detective and the manic person. Kim Dickens is forgotten for doing a great job as the kind of Irene Adler role. Ryan O’Neal is no longer wooden and gives a really intense performance. And this movie is a constant reminder of how good Ben Stiller was and how much he pisses me off now. In this movie he is so subtle yet so funny I get so mad when I see him bouncing off the walls for some piece of sh*t.

This review was probably very boring because it is boring to hear someone gush about a movie. I just can’t help it though; I really like this movie. This is one of those gems that you find when you do a project like this bomb thread. It is a movie I revisit again and again through the years. Check it out.


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