Monday, August 3, 2009

"Zero Effect" Review - (insert ironic comment here)

"Zero Effect" is wonderful and funny. It's also an absurd take on a modern Sherlock Holmes - one who can barely carry a conversation or leave his home. I love this little movie so much I haven't seen it in nearly 10 years; the review was always in my heart. The movie begins with Bill Pullman's lead, singing awful folk songs.

Darryl Zero is an amazing detective - he solved an impenetrable government case by phone, in one hour. Yet between jobs, he's a neurotic and scared shut-in. Darryl never meets his clients; his assistant is a lawyer, a front-man. From the background, Zero pursues a case for a blackmailed businessman (Ryan O'Neal as Stark). What he finds is a mystery both simple and complex, a deep connection with another person, and a wake-up call.

There are so many reasons to believe that Jake Kasdan directed a gem in "ZE." The movie has brains, but isn't a show-off. It has passion, depth, and a willingness to proceed slowly. Its pacing and feel either echo the quiet fervor of love-making or an annoying day at the office. The intensity, whether in character or plot, is carefully underplayed. Even the abundant humor is kinda quiet - but it's some of the funniest dry humor ever filmed. And the indie-style soundtrack - far rarer in 1998 - is thoughtfully used. [but that Nick Cave song is totally over-played now]

Pullman gives his best performance as the wounded genius. He's solid at anything, especially comedy and functional neuroses. Impressively, his voice-overs work. As a part-time trainwreck, Darryl Zero is a fun and layered role complete with that old detectives' staple: "Sam Spade" monologues, memoir-style. They're a highlight, yet the savvy confidence heard in his voice contrasts starkly with the man we see - an idiot savant who's either smooth or broken. (Like Holmes, he's a part-time user)

Ben Stiller is a bittersweet blast, here. The megahit "There's Something About Mary" ushered him into mainstream films and blander comedies. Since, only "Tropic Thunder" measures up (I never saw "Tenunbaums"). As Steve Arlo, Darryl's assistant, he's firmly in Stiller's nice-but-dickish niche. Arlo and Zero act like brothers at times, but often exchange the role of elder sibling. Why? On the one hand, Steve is neither boss nor genius; on the other, Darryl has no common sense and can act autistic.

The small cast is very effective. As Gloria, I can't take my eyes off Kim Dickens ("Lost," "Deadwood,"? and "FNL"?); she's slender and raspy (could be typecast as a junkie), but gives off a great vibe. She could also give lessons on how to use one's eyes. As Stark, I'm sure Ryan O'Neal played the part exactly as intended; unfortunately, that means "unlikeable" and "forgettable."

"Zero Effect" is a nice pick for dates, a laugh with friends, a quiet night at home... It's the sort of movie that delightfully entertains most of the people I know. I'll post an update next time I watch it, in case my feelings change.

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