Zero Effect (1998), Jake Kasdan, Director
By Jeanne Doherty, Day MLIS
It is well-nigh impossible to accurately pinpoint what is so amazing about Zero Effect. It isn't any one thing that makes it funnier, smarter, more interesting than other caper or detective movies. Each detail fits with all the others, sliding in to the larger picture with the satisfying "snick" of a puzzle piece clicking in to place.
Or maybe I am saying that wrong. It is not as if the characters and their setting blend in with one another, or are indistinguishable, because there are definitely some oddball people and places in the film. The "Zero" of Zero Effect, for instance, is Daryl Zero, the most talented, and surely the most incredibly odd detective known to pop culture. He is played by another odd and talented gentleman, the sorely overlooked Bill Pullman. To give you an idea of the way Pullman shines in this role, I will tell you that Ben Stiller and Ryan O'Neal seem faded and ordinary by comparison, even though both of them pull off strange and hilarious and effecting characters with aplomb. And they all have been handed dozens of pitch-perfect lines, calculated to make you say "what?" at the same time you are laughing so hard you are in danger of falling out of your chair.
When it isn't making you cry with laughter, Zero Effect is decidedly relaxed and assured for a caper film; it doesn't exactly have any heart-racing suspense, but there is a great deal of real mystery. Throughout the film, the viewer is often wondering just how much each character knows about all the others. They carry on ordinary-seeming (well, unusually clever, but otherwise ordinary) conversations while you are left watching their every tick, saying to yourself, "Does she know who he REALLY is? Is that guy just toying with the other one?" The film manages to keep you guessing even after the detective-puzzle has ostensibly been solved. It is a clever trick, to leave you hungry for answers at that same time the film gives you the satisfaction of wrapping up all the loose ends. Perhaps that answers the question, "Why don't I ever seem to tire of this movie, even though I have seen it at least 20 times???"