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Zero Effect

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Zero Effect

Starring: Bill Pullman, Ben Stiller
Director: Jake Kasdan
Rated: R
RunTime: 116 Minutes
Release Date: January 1998
Genres: Comedy, Mystery, Romance

*Also starring: Ryan O'Neal, Kim Dickens, Angela Featherstone

Reviewer Roundup
1.  Harvey Karten review follows ---
2.  MrBrown read the review movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review

Review by Harvey Karten
No Rating Supplied

Perhaps the best movie on the subject of multiple personalities is Nunnally Johnson's 1957 classic "The Three Faces of Eve," featuring Joanne Woodward as the woman who not only has a life but enjoys three of them. Multiple personality disorder of a sort is more common, if less dramatic, in the population in general. Perhaps you're a tiger behind the wheel of a car, honking your way through bottlenecked traffic, but spineless when seated at the dinner table in your own home. Or you're the employee who plays up to his boss day after day and an absolute ogre with your kid or dog. "Zero Effect" deals with such a guy; cool, efficient, organized and bloodhound-capable when traveling incognito as a private investigator: an absolute geek on a social level, agoraphobic, whose steady diet of tuna fish recalls a dysfunctional teen in Lyle Kessler's play about an off-the-wall kid, "Orphans."

As played by Bill Pullman as the title character, Daryl Zero, the movie deals largely with the detective's relationship with two people: his assistant Steve Arlo, (Ben Stiller), wholly opposite in temperament, accountant-stiff with a dentist's sense of humor; and the gamin-like Gloria Sullivan (Kim Dickens), who changes his life in pretty much the degree to which he alters hers. While Steve tells Daryl's prospective clients that all contact with made through him--that no one is allowed to see the Private Eye himself--he gives the impression that his boss is above it all, a kind of Emperor Hirohito upon whom none may lay eyes. The truth is that Zero is often holed up in his room, playing songs which he composed himself, and executing them terribly.

The story is an intriguing one, filled with twists and reversals and a surprise ending which will catch you unaware. Gregory Stark (Ryan O'Neal), a fabulously wealthy but desperate tycoon, interviews Arlo begging for help in his dilemma. He is being blackmailed by a clever scoundrel who asks for bi-weekly drops of $100,000 cash and puts him through mazes that would fluster the most brilliant experimental rat. As he reports, the cur got his or her hands on the key to his safe deposit box and is threatening to reveal its contents to the police if the demands are not met. Though Stark refuses to reveal the mysterious subject matter of the safe even to the man he hires, Zero accepts the case and, while following the trail of the blackmailer in an assortment of disguises, he comes upon information that makes this a far cry from a typical case.

In a startling demonstration of the powers that have enabled Zero to be the world's greatest detective, he tells a woman waiting for turn for a massage appointment that she is a paramedic. Startled with this prescience, the woman, Gloria Sullivan (Kim Dickens) eventually learns that the iodine scent remaining with her gave the secret away. The picture is filled with references like this one, a series of revelations that give it a good deal of charm.

Yet for all its wisecracks and mock-noir ambiance, "The Zero Effect" comes across as a minor movie, one which does not utilize the considerable talents of Bill Pullman and a puffy Ryan O'Neal. The scene in Zero's quarters that features the detective strumming wildly on his guitar while standing on his mattress is almost an embarrassment. For his part, Ben Stiller comes across as so stiff he is virtually lifeless. You wonder how this guy, who should have had the name "Zero," would be courted heavily by his seductive girl friend Jess (Angela Featherstone), whom he virtually ignores whenever his boss calls him away on an assignment however absurd.

Still, the picture has poignance, as the virginal thirty-year old detective falls under the Gloria's spell, from the time he meets her at a Portland, Oregon gymnasium to the obligatory lovemaking scene in her home.

"Zero Effect" deserves credit for an original take on the noir genre and could have profited from a more toned-down performance from Bill Pullman, a change which first-time director Jake Kasdan seemed averse to making.

Copyright 1998 Harvey Karten

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