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Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

All my aimless thoughts, ideas, and ramblings, all packed into one site!

Zero Effect (1998)


We all knew there was more to Bill Pullman than just delivering kick-ass speeches.

Bill Pullman is Daryl Zero, the self-titled world’s greatest detective and Ben Stiller is his reluctant assistant. Together, they begin to investigate a blackmail case that turns out to be much more than they had originally expected. So much so that Daryl Zero himself, realizes he may be a bit too over his head for the first time in his life and may have to cool his jets before he makes this the last case he ever does.

Son of famed writer/director Lawrence Kasdan, Jake Kasdan finally got the chance to make a name for himself with a little flick he did back in ’98 that I can’t believe I found anywhere. I hear about it from time-to-time and I even saw it at a yard sale not too long ago, but other than that, nothing else for this little-known flick has ever popped-up.

Thankfully, On Demand always has me covered so that I can discover little gems such as these.

What I liked most about what Kasdan does with this flick here is how he starts it off in a goofy, off-kilter type of way but then soon changes up the whole pace to where it’s actually more about the mystery case than you would think. The opening credits and first 15 minutes may have you think in you’re in-store for a type of nutty, Coen Brothers-like dark comedy/thriller, but somehow that changes up about half-way through; without feeling too sudden or random. It’s just right, because these characters are given such time and care through Kasdan’s direction.

RIP payphones

RIP payphones.

I think that’s where most of the kudos to this script has to go to is with Kasdan’s handle of these characters and their stories. As soon as we meet these two guys, they seem like your typical bunch of dorks that we have to watch for the next two hours, just walking around and bumbling on and on about some case that has no suspense or surprises. However, that’s the difference between this film and those other flicks: This one actually has some surprises and characters we care about. The mystery did get me involved and kept me wondering what was going to happen next, but I also felt a bit worried for what was actually going to happen to these characters in the first place, since Kasdan made me care for them so much in the beginning. It’s remarkable how Kasdan was able to balance out the human side of this story, along with the mystery one so well to the point of where the transition doesn’t even seem noticeable. Really takes you by surprise even more when you realize that this is by the same cat who did raunchy-comedies like Bad Teacher and Orange County.

Where this film lost me a bit was by the end and how it seems like they really, really lost any sign of their funny-bone that seemed attached so well in the first couple acts. I will admit, I was going into this film expecting some laughs and even though I got that for a good amount of the picture, they seem to have taken a trip elsewhere once the middle act comes strolling right through. That bothered me because the off-kilter humor had a certain type of charm and energy to it that made this flick pop out a bit more and I could have only wished that Kasdan decided to stick with this side of the film just a bit more. You know, just so I was able to get entertained from all areas of the film.

But despite this, the film still works because of what I mentioned earlier: It’s characters and their development. And when I’m talking about “character development”, I’m mainly talking about Bill Pullman and what Kasdan gives him to play around with as Daryl Zero. What’s so fun to watch about Pullman in the first place is that the guy seems like he’s really having a fun time right from the start with this role as this goofy detective, and it only seems like it’s going to get better with him along the ride. This is exactly what happens, but not in the way that you would expect, nor in the way that I actually expected.

Ben Stiller: All the ladies love 'em.

Ben Stiller: All the ladies love ‘em.

Zero begins to find out more about himself through this one gal he becomes involved with and as corny as it may seem to some, to me, it seemed believable and deserved since this character was a mystery to me and I wanted to know more about him. Pullman’s great when it comes to displaying all of the goofy antics and ways of this guy, but when it comes down to getting underneath his skin and realizing what makes him tick the way he does, he’s even better and it makes you think more about Pullman’s acting chops. The guy has never been perfect, but he’s always been good and that’s definitely what’s on-display here.

The other character in this flick is played by Ben Stiller and as good as Stiller is with handling these types of yuppie-like roles, he sort of gets a bit annoying after a bit and you can’t help but be less interested in his story, compared to Zero’s. Now granted, this flick is mainly about Zero and his realization of himself through this one case, but Stiller’s character never really seems to get that chance to fully flesh-out and show us more about him. The guy wants to get out of the life that Zero has put him in, get married, have a family and eventually settle into retirement, but it’s a story I, for some odd reason, didn’t see myself caring about too much when all was said and done.

Because, when it comes right down to it, you can’t mess with Bill Pullman, people. That’s just a fact.

Consensus: It may not stay consistently funny throughout the whole duration of its two-hour time-limit, but Zero Effect at least keeps its story interesting, fun, fresh and surprising in ways that may take some for a bit of a different turn.

7 / 10 = Rental!!

Eat your heart out, ladies. And possibly curious men.

Eat your heart out, ladies. And possibly curious men.

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

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11 responses to “Zero Effect (1998)

  1. Roy Sexton (Reel Roy Reviews) July 14, 2014 at 3:37 am

    I’ve never heard of this one – I love them both, particularly when they are playing left of center. I will have to check this one out!

  2. dullwood68 July 14, 2014 at 6:01 am

    Nice review, Dan! I actually saw Zero Effect when it first came out, and I’m pretty sure it made my Top 10 for that year. I loved its quirky, off-kilter nature, and it’s one of those movies I always say I’ll have to take another look at, but… dammit there’s just too many other movies out there!

    • CMrok93 July 15, 2014 at 12:40 am

      It’s a very quirky movie, but it works because it doesn’t over-do that aspect. It just plays with it for awhile and moves onto an actual story, with real people.

  3. Three Rows Back July 14, 2014 at 10:18 pm

    Hmmm, not even heard of this. Nice work.

  4. ruth July 15, 2014 at 12:00 am

    When I saw the first paragraph, I thought this was an all-out goofy comedy. Somehow I find it hard to picture Bill Pullman as the world’s greatest detective, ahah.

  5. keith7198 July 15, 2014 at 1:42 am

    Never have seen this one. Completely new to me. Very solid write up.

  6. Evan Crean July 20, 2014 at 4:32 pm

    Really glad you finally had a chance to catch ZERO EFFECT Dan, and I’m thrilled that you enjoyed this underrated gem. You’re right that one of the reasons it’s so great is its patient character development. You really get to know Zero, his femme fatale, and her family so you get completely wrapped up in the experience. I agree that the other part of its charm is its off-kilter humor. Pullman knows exactly how to deliver every line and he impresses with his acting here. I didn’t have a problem with the comedy giving way to drama in the later acts since naturally the story had to take a more serious turn.

  7. Annie Oakley July 21, 2014 at 1:44 pm

    That one is going in my watch list

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