Posted by: kfugrip | January 27, 2008

Zero Effect

I watched this film, and am reviewing it in conjunction with the 10th anniversary of its release. Chronological Snobbery is doing a weeks worth of posts to commemorate the movie (is commemoration the intent?).

Zero Effect, written and directed by Jake Kasdan, is the story of Daryl Zero (Bill Pullman) the worlds greatest detective who is also a social cripple and incapable of communicating with anyone but his lawyer/handler/agent, Steve Arlo (Ben Stiller) unless he is on a case. Zero is hired by a mogul (Ryan O’Neil) who is being blackmailed, but Zero finds that this case is more complicated and involving than any of his normal jobs.

What I liked: The concept of a paranoid, obsessive, compulsive, socially inept detective who can only function when on a case is a great one. The story is well crafted, doling out the clues in timely fashion intended to keep the story moving and giving us bits of character and personality at the same time. The character of Daryl Zero is interesting and it’s no surprise that it was turned into a television show. He is quirky in the best way, because it is motivated. The man has social problems.

The moments of detection, and investigation, were well thought out and interesting. The case kept me involved in a powerful way, more intense than the typical episode of Law and Order, and I liked the character. I rooted for him to both win the case and to become more of a whole person. Zero’s interaction and relationship with Arlo was smartly done and was the most fully formed and executed relationship in the movie.

Ryan O’Neil gives a good performance as the shady mogul and is particularly good in the scene with Stiller outside Zero’s hotel room. Though his role isn’t a stretch, he plays a good villain in this film.

What I didn’t like: The film grinds to a halt when we deal with the burgeoning relationship between Zero and Gloria Sullivan (Kim Dickens). All of the momentum that has been building through following Zero as he weaves the threads of his investigation are is lost when we watch the lukewarm chemistry in standard shot-reverse-shot sequences. Ditto for the few scenes between Arlo and his live-in-girlfriend Jess (Angela Featherstone). It feels like Kasdan was more interested in the behavioral tics of Zero than he was in how a disturbed man falls in love and perhaps he should have been because the romance in this film wasn’t nearly as interesting as Zero’s methodology.

The performances were weak, particularly Kim Dickens, and I feel like Pullman was miscast as Daryl Zero. I spent a bathroom break thinking of other actors who could have worked interesting angles as the character and the list was endless. I have a distaste for Pullman though I’ve like films that he’s been in (Spaceballs, The Last Seduction, Lost Highway) I’m never very happy with what he brings to a role. Ben Stiller is playing the straight man here and doing it well, but it is difficult to tell because of how he plays off of Pullman. Stiller plays coiled-spring really well and he plays a good dim bulb, but he is doing neither in this film, though he’s given his moment in the opening.

Kasdan seems to be searching for a style in this film, which isn’t a surprise because it’s his first, and I thought that his direction was uneven. I disliked the opening, with the cross cutting between Arlo negotiating a deal for Zero’s services with Starke and complaining about Zero in another. It was an effective way to dose out exposition but too cute. It is the kind of technique that Kasdan could pull of now with more economy and precision.

2 stars



  1. I remember seeing Zero Effect when it came out on video back in the day and liking quite a bit. Of course, Jake Kasdan has directed nothing but garbage since, (and his dad made the laughably bad adaptation of Stephen King’s Dreamcatcher, but I digress.) I guess I’d have to see it again to effectively argue against your 2 star revue.

  2. Zero Effect was amazing, and 2 Stars is just too low for such a remarkable film. And saying that he’s directed nothing but rubbish since is a lie. The TV Set and Walk Hard where the best comedies I’ve seen in a long time. I loved both.

    Zero Effect – 4 Stars
    Orange County – 3 Stars
    The TV Set – 4 Stars
    Walk Hard – 4.5 Stars

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