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38 of 41 people found the following review helpful
on February 21, 2003
Jake Kasdan himself, the director of "Zero Effect," admitted that the Detective-Story plot is a Hollywood favorite. Having admitted that, he went on to create one of the best movies I've seen, and certainly the best I've seen in this genre, while at once adhering to the rules of the detective story and creating such a sharp, intelligently written story that it makes you shake your head.
There is so much to love about this movie I hesitate to begin. How about with the dialogue? From the first line, the dialogue is precise, subtle and funny. Someone famous once stressed that subtlety is key to lasting humor, and this script is exemplary; it's as funny the tenth time I watch it as it was the first. For once, we get to laugh at the detective hero, to laugh at his human flaws, as well as marvel at his methods.
Ben Stiller is a master of the human kettle of frustration, and is a great counterpoint to Pullman's various quirks. I didn't like Stiller much before this film, but have since become a staunch fan thanks to his performance here. Kim Dickens was fantastic, as was the role created for her. Detective movies usually feature a femme fatale with much more to her than meets the eye, but Clarissa is one to beat them all. I'll let it stand at that so as not to ruin any of the plot. And Ryan O'Neal rounds out the main cast with a wonderful portrayal of a white-collar criminal.
People accuse me sometimes of taking movies too seriously, but I argue back that my favorites are ones that actually teach me something lasting. As we watch, we solve the mystery along with Daryl Zero, and we learn his methods, similar to reading along to a Sherlock Holmes story (in this case, see "A Scandal in Bohemia"). While the real world of PI's almost always involves following a spouse around to see if they're cheating, one can still learn from this artificial world of blackmail, murder and reprisal. It is true that 'watching someone in their natural habitat can be very telling,' and learning how to be an objective observer ('the 2 obs') is rewarding. There is one scene where Zero makes his assessment of his client after watching him for a day at the gym, and it is absolutely fantastic.
I read a review of this film that complained about a thin soundtrack. Kasdan himself addressed the question: he hates, as do I, when a soundtrack tells you how to feel. If there's a love scene, play pretty piano music in the background. If someone's being followed, play music in a sinister minor chord. You get the idea. Can't you make a love scene realer, and more poignant, by playing nothing at all, by letting the rustle of a dress as it falls to the floor stand alone as a supremely erotic noise? Kasdan used music minimally, to accentuate a scene rather than make up for it.
Jake Kasdan, in his first solo effort as director, made a film as masterful and quirky as its main character, and at the same time made me hang on to every word while I was stunned time and again at the remarkable plot twists. For that he is to be commended.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on October 23, 2004
This is an extremely entertaining little film - with Bill Pullman providing most of the laughs - alongside the usually comic Ben Stiller - who is somewhat serious in this role. The film is about an extremely talented private dick who is inexperienced in his own personal life - which takes an almost classic twist (reminiscent of some old hollywood films) when he falls for the charms of someone - who turns out to be equally adept at hiding things. This is a very unique, intelligent movie that will leave you satisfied and a little bit excited about what you have seen. I think this gives us a glimpse of what hollywood these days is capable of, but rarely delivers - a charming character study!
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on February 2, 2000
I love this movie, one of a very few that I never tire of rewatching. Wonderful mood/atmosphere, in some way reminiscent of Blade Runner. The parallels with the character of Sherlock Holmes are many and vivid. Writer/Director Kasden must be a fan of Jeremy Brett's interpretation of the English sleuth. It's all here: the drug addiction (Tab too), the interest in music - there a violin here a guitar, the disguises, the erratic personal behavior, brilliant leaps in deduction, Stiller's Doctor Watson, and finally the woman. Kim Dickens portrays (very well) the only female that has ever, will ever, reach Zero's heart just as Irene Adler in "A Scandal in Bohemia" was forever 'the' woman in Holme's life. A well told detective story that moves at its own pace but never fails to keep your interest. Pullman, Stiller, and O'Neal are perfect. The music fits (I even bought the soundtrack). A little gem of a movie. Watch it. Buy it. Give us a sequel Jake.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on April 9, 2002
If you enjoy Sherlock Holmes, and you haven't seen this picture, you are doing yourself a disservice. As you can note by the many reviews, it is very Sherlockian. No small wonder: it appears to be a retelling of the Holmes story "A Scandal In Bohemia." It borrows the skeleton of the original story - which provides us with the comfortable old paradigm - but it veers from the source material enough to make it feel entirely fresh. Which is cool.
Also, it is interesting from a visual standpoint, which lends credibility to Sherlock's quote (from yet another story) that "Art in the blood is liable to take the strangest forms," considering Jake Kasdan's paternity. In this case, it might be better to amend the quote to "Art in the blood can't help but reveal itself." It's a pretty looking film, and the camera is in the hands of someone who understands how to use it as a narrative device.
Even those who haven't read every Sherlock Holmes story available will possibly like this, because I think most people like to watch stories about really, really smart people who figure stuff out . . . particularly when those smart people have a difficult time keeping themselves together, despite their intelligence.
The comparison to Sherlock Holmes wouldn't be quite complete without pointing out that this movie is very sequel-worthy ... and I hope that its makers finally arrive at the same conclusion.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on December 5, 2004
Modern version of Sherlock Holmes...with Ben Stiller as Watson. Pullman is electric as the troubled PI. There are some holes in the plot but the overall effect of classic mystery elements & colorful detective in a 1990s setting is well worth checking out. Excellent music; although nothing is made of surround sound and the transfer to dvd is just ok. Technical aspects aside, this is above average fare. Great atmospheric shots of Portland, OR.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on July 1, 2003
Humor, suspence, wit ,plot,actors, I LOVE THIS MOVIE!!!
It just sparkles. You just can't go wrong with this movie!
Your first intro to the mysterious Mr. Zero is so unforgetable.
And the flip flop of Ben Stiller describing his boss to a client, cut in with him describing him to a friend is hysterical. And with all this, its got heart! and some great music!
YES YES YES!!!
Very refreshing.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on December 20, 1998
The least one can say about ZERO EFFECT is that the script is very intelligent and reveals the work of a genuine writer. Jake Kasdan has certainly read the adventures of Conan Doyle's super detective Sherlock Holmes with great delight. Like Holmes, bill Pullman likes to teake drugs (amphetamines for Bill, heroin for Sherlock) and to play music (guitar while Holmes had a predilection for violin) when he's out of work. Like Holmes, Bill stays away from women who could deconcentrate him and loves to surprise his audience with his wonderful sense of observation and the amazing logic of his deductions. His only problem : Watson isn't a Doctor but a lawyer who will not (ungrateful Ben Stiller !) write the story of the numerous cases he has solved during his career. So he has to open his PC and do the job himself. The scene in which Bill Pullman tries to find keys in Ryan O'Neal's office is undoubtedly an homage to E. A. POE's detective Auguste Dupin in THE PURLOINED LETTER (1845 !). In fact, nothing new under the sun ! But these references are discreetly hidden in this movie and demands a constant attention in order to appreciate them. ZERO EFFECT is the first movie of Jake Kasdan and I look forward for his next films with great impatience. A DVD to buy and to add to your collection of " unknown great movies "
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on November 29, 2008
The ideas here are very clever. But this turns out to be more of a "tell the audience what's going on" movie than show them. People talk about what they're going to do, what they've done, what they're doing. There's a lot of talk and little action. For some kinds of movies, that's fine. But for this kind of movie it just doesn't seem to quite work. Of course you can consider this to be a very offbeat detective story, which is what it is, true. But the characters are just not involving enough to counterbalance the offbeat quality of the movie.

We don't really get a fully humanized portrait of Daryl Zero, the title character. As for his assistant, Steve Arlo, we know he's getting tired of working with Zero, but that seems to be the main trait that comes across characterizing him, which doesn't do much to flesh him out either. As for the "bad guy", Ryan O'Neal, he's bland. Zero's love interest, played by Kim Dickens, is the most fully realized character in the movie but when you bounce that characterization against someone who we don't have a fully developed character for, it just doesn't feel like there's a legit reason for the two of them to hook up.

I gave this three stars because the ideas are sharp. I wish I could say it was a movie that pulled me in, but it really left me pretty cold.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on September 1, 2000
I really liked this movie and will try to be helpful without repeating all that has been said.
First for the bad parts. It is a new director and it shows some. There appears to be a change in tone. The movie starts out more absurd and then changes as the case gets on. Secondly there are some directorial decisions which are questionable such as a long tracking shot from under a table which has little meaning and detracts. You also have the subplot with Arlo and his girlfriend which could have been eliminated. Films seem to need a whiny woman as a subplot for some reason that I can't explain.
For the good--you have a hero who lives by cunning and wits with almost no violence in the movie. You have a movie with little or no out of whack plot devices. The characters act consistently and humanely. There is no cold-blooded Clint Eastwood type hero who is more wicked than the villian. As Arlo says, there aren't good guys and bad guys, its just a bunch of guys. The movie thinks and has a genuine romance by two people that seems real. And then for the capper, they stick to their nature and there isn't a forced ending! I would hope that there would be another one but this thing didn't play well in the theaters though everyone I know who saw it (and I heavily recommended it) liked it alot.
So if you want a thoughtful detective story with some humor and don't need to see guns or car chases, give it a view.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on March 26, 1999
A skeptical film watcher, I was blown away by this one; Pullman and Stiller become far less unsung in a wonderful variation of Doyle's Sherlock Holmes. The successful modernization of a classic work is even harder to find than classics themselves, but Zero Effect even manages to update the basic structure while maintaining the luster of an unadorned masterpiece. Let me be frank- this almost makes up for Pullman's appearance in ID4... actually, it does. I am of the opinion that the more informed and educated comedy is, the more outragesously funny it is. HBO's Mr. Show is a prime example of this, as is Zero Effect. 3.4 x 10^5 thumbs up... HAHAH!
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