Movie Review By Andrea Chase
"Zero Effect" is a film that can't make up its mind. When we first enter the world of oddball private-eye, Darryl Zero, the flick's a not even half-baked farce with a plot that's only incidental to the zany antics of its hero. By the end, it's morphed itself into a philosophical manifesto on human nature.
Writer/Director Jake Kasden, son of Lawrence, may have trouble deciding on a genre, but he has the nuts and bolts of exposition down cold. We learn everything we need to know about Zero in the first five minutes as his assistant, Arlo, lays down Zero's terms to prospective client Ryan O' Neal, who's at his most somnambulant. Zero never does meetings, never negotiates his fee, and always solves the case because he's a brilliant student of human nature. Intercut with this is the lowdown on what he's really like - brilliant, sure, but also an insecure obsessive-compulsive geek with the social skills of a hyena. Except when he's on the case. Then he manages to pull himself together by working undercover and assuming other personas. His case this time is tracking down a blackmailer, only the blackmailee might be the real criminal here.
Bill Pullman plays Zero as though someone were off camera yelling at him to be zanier, to go for the burn. He tries, but his heart isn't in it. It's hardly surprising, considering that most of the time I had trouble figuring out what the jokes were supposed to be. Meanwhile, that same someone seems to be yelling at Ben Stiller, who plays Arlo, to go flat. He's so flat that he lies there on the screen like a beached halibut.
Cooler heads eventually prevailed, or maybe wrested control of this bomb-to-be after viewing the first rushes. Too bad it couldn't have happened before filming began, because by the last half-hour, "The Zero Effect" has been distilled into an interesting and tightly-woven film-noir with a sophisticated plot and characters worth paying attention to. Pullman's Zero, in particular, has gone from obnoxious audience-repelling clod to a poignant, eccentric loner wistfully longing for a normal life.
But please don't get me wrong, the first ninety minutes are NOT worth the suffering required to get to the good stuff.
© 1998 - Andrea Chase - Air Date: 1/28/98
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