Jake Kasdan’s feature directorial debut, Zero Effect, marks its 25th anniversary since the mystery-comedy’s theatrical release in 1998.
In terms of plot, Kasdan’s script draws on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s third short story featuring detective Sherlock Holmes, “A Scandal in Bohemia.” Daryl Zero (Bill Pullman) is the world’s most private detective while Steve Arlo (Ben Stiller) is his Dr. Watson. Zero is a misanthropist so Arlo does the heavy work. It’s not often that you meet a detective that will never meet his clients but here we are. This makes for an entertaining quirk and one can see the toll that it takes on both clients and his own assistant.
Gregory Stark (Ryan O’Neal)) hires the duo after losing his safe deposit box key. He’s being blackmailed and we later learn the culprit’s identity is Gloria Sullivan (Kim Dickens). Interestingly, Zero ends up sleeping with Gloria and reveals information about his family. There’s a lot of pressure coming from Stark when it comes to getting Arlo to reveal the blackmailer’s identity. What Stark doesn’t know is that Gloria knows the truth about him and this is why she’s blackmailing him. And yet, knowing the truth doesn’t stop Gloria from saving Stark’s live when he has a heart attack. Zero ends up helping Gloria flee the country for safety.
Zero is the type of detective that is best while working a case. Once he’s off the case, the guy can be a paranoid wreck. And again, his quirks can be a pain in the tuchas for everyone else in his life.
Fun fact: I first saw the film in the summer of 1997 as an advanced screening. Surprisingly, it never opened locally in theaters. It wasn’t until many years later in which I learned that it did get a theatrical release. Granted, it only made $2 million at the box office against a $5 million budget. As we now know, the film developed something of a cult following after its release. Following the film’s theatrical release in the US, it would go onto screen in the Un Certain Regard of the 1998 Cannes Film Festival.
As a film, Zero Effect shows Kasdan’s promise as a filmmaker. He followed the film up with Orange County and later directed cult musical biopic parody Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story. And of course, there’s the Jumanji films, Bad Teacher, and Sex Tape. Not everything can be a hit but every filmmaker has their highs and lows and with Zero Effect, Kasdan manages to hit a stand-up double.
DIRECTOR/SCREENWRITER: Jake Kasdan
CAST: Bill Pullman, Ben Stiller, Kim Dickens, Angela Featherstone, and Ryan O’Neal
Columbia Pictures released Zero Effect in theaters on January 30, 2022. Grade: 3.5/5
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