Zero Effect Review
Daryl Zero (Bill Pullman) is the world’s best private detective. His superior knowledge of human psychology and finely tuned detection skills enable him to solve almost any case. Zero is brilliant and masterful in his professional guise, but when he’s not working Zero is a recluse, locking himself away in his Penthouse flat composing bad music and living off a diet of tuna fish, Tab and an assortment of non prescription drugs. His communication with future clients is done via his personal assistant Steve Arlo (Ben Stiller). Arlo ascertains the needs of each of Zeros potential clients and also ensures that none of these clients ever get to meet Zero.
The Zero Effect opens with the possibility of a new case for Daryl Zero. Gregory Stark (Ryan O’Neil), a Portland lumbar magnate, has lost his keys which also contain the key to a safety deposit box. Several months after the keys go missing Stark begins to receive letters from a blackmailer asking for large sums of money on a regular basis. Stark has no choice but to meet these demands, but is eager to find out who the blackmailer is and what they have on him. After employing other PI’s who have been unable to identify the blackmailer, Stark turns to Daryl Zero.
It goes without saying the Zero accepts the case, travels to Portland in order to observe his new client, and to find out who the blackmailer is before the next sum of money changes hands. However, the identity of the blackmailer soon becomes unimportant as Zero becomes more involved in trying to find out what extra information Stark is withholding, and the motivation behind the blackmail.
Although billed as a detective story, the Zero Effect contains elements of many different genres, including romance, comedy and detection. The three main elements are skilfully woven together by Jake Kasdan (son of Lawrence) who not only wrote the script but also directed the film as well. Kasdan was in his very early 20’s when the film was released and his relative inexperience does not come across at all in the script. The dialogue is witty and sharp and the characters are well observed and quirky to say the least.
Kasdan’s direction is also very impressive; and his enthusiasm for the project has been rewarded by getting some wonderful performances out of the cast. Bill Pope’s cinematography also enhances and adds depth to the underlying tension that is present throughout the film. The finished product is a film that looks slick and stylish, which is not something you’d normally expect from such a low budget film.
For all his inexperience Kasdan managed to get a number of heavy weight actors to fill the main roles in Zero Effect. An unusual choice has got to be Bill Pullman as Daryl Zero. Pullman is widely known as playing the ‘good guy’ in the majority of movies (with an exception being his role in Lost Highway); in another move away from type he plays the drug taking, socially inept, yet brilliant Zero with aplomb. After watching the movie it is hard to think of another actor who could have embraced the role as readily as Pullman obviously did. To counter the erraticism of Zero we have Ben Stiller as Steve Arlo, again in a move away from type Stiller plays the straight man with an edge (and a number of great one liners). By portraying Steve Arlo, Stiller has proved that he can do more than the usual ‘funny man’ roles. It’s a shame that Stiller seems to stick firmly to his comedy roots as it seems obvious that he is just as comfortable playing serious characters as well as goofy ones. In the two smaller, yet pivotal roles we have Kim Dickens who plays Gloria Sullivan, a paramedic and Zero’s love interest. Finally, there’s Ryan O’Neal (Gregory Stark), who certainly comes across as a man who finds himself in a situation he cannot handle and unwilling to compromise.
The film is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1:85.1 and is anamorphic, but for those people who don’t like those ‘annoying black bars’ the second side features a pan and scan 4:3 release as well. The Zero Effect was still a young film when it was transferred to DVD and there was no noticeable print damage. Colours are clear and well defined and the infrequent night time sequences are also exceptionally clear.
Again we have a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix that is used infrequently due to the nature of the film. The centre speaker gets most of the action with the other speakers being used for effect infrequently. Dialogue is exceptionally crisp and clear.
Cast & Crew Biographies: A quick overview on the careers of the main members of the cast and crew, these are a couple of pages each, but do include a filmography where appropriate.
Trailers: The disk contains two trailers which can be found in different sections. The trailer for the Zero Effect can be found in the special features section, the second trailer for The Man Who Knew Too Little is a ‘hidden’ feature in the Reel Attractions menu.
Commentary: A commentary track with Jake Kasdan is included on the disk. This was Jakes first film and his enthusiasm for the project is easy to spot. The commentary track throws up some interesting little anecdotes along with Kasdan’s theory that no one ever listens to the commentaries. To prove this theory, he opens a sweep stake where he will donate $5 to charity if you can a) find him and b) recite to him the sentence he makes up during the commentary. What’s quite refreshing about this commentary is that Kasdan is not afraid of admitting some of the mistakes he feels he made during the filming of the movie.
Production Notes: Not so much production notes, more a couple of pages on the location used in the film (Portland), and a section entitled “Kasdan’s Fresh Spin on an old Genre” which is another couple of pages about the film and the direction Kasdan wanted to take.
The Zero Effect could be touted as the modernisation of that other famous detective duo Holmes and Watson, and while there are similarities present it stands on it’s own as an original piece of work. The Zero Effect has everything a movie should, it looks good, has an intelligent script and above all a wonderful cast. To top it all off this is a movie that stands up to repeat viewings, and finishes with you hoping that Daryl Zero will return.