(director/writer: Jake Kasdan; cinematographer: Bill Pope; editor: Tara Timpone; cast: Bill Pullman (Daryl Zero), Ben Stiller (Steve Arlo), Kim Dickens (Gloria Sullivan), Ryan O’Neal (Gregory Stark), Angela Featherstone (Jess); Runtime: 116; Columbia Pictures; 1998)

“Had a light-heartedness that was endearing.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

An offbeat look at how a somewhat reclusive genius and socially inept private eye Zero (Pullman) goes about solving a very odd case, involving blackmail and a missing key to a safety box. Stiller is the loyal underling to Zero, around mostly for the comic effect. Unfortunately, he is not given more time onscreen to do his thing. He is the one who meets the client, the wealthy businessman, Stark (Ryan), and explains to him how eccentric and fantastic his boss is; and, how his boss will not meet him under any circumstance.

Like Sherlock Holmes’s dictum: “observation and deduction, and no emotional entanglements,” Pullman follows in the same footsteps as the great master detective; and, like Sherlock, he needs his loyal worker as a security blanket.

By a chance encounter in the gym, where Pullman is stealthily observing Stark, he meets a paramedic, Gloria (Kim), who becomes the only woman he will ever know intimately (just like Sherlock). And again, like Sherlock, his romantic interest is not followed through, as his work becomes his only reason for living.

The trail to this bizarre case begins to get hot as Pullman gets to know Gloria; but, she turns the tables on him and starts to observe him. Pullman uses his powers of deduction to find out what is really going on. The story is funny, somewhat romantic, though at times resembling more a TV series like Columbo than a movie. In the end it turns back to the private eye film genre it started out in. I thoroughly enjoyed this uncanny and inventive caper except for the unconvincing acting in the scenes between Pullman and Kim (she was too lethargic), which made it difficult for me to get involved with their relationship. Nevertheless, Pullman was able to pull off his part of the deal. He was magnificently outrageous and easily became the character he was portraying.

Zero Effect had a light-heartedness that was endearing and worthy of that Sherlock Holmes genre it so alluringly wanted to emulate.