It's a lonely life...that of the necromancer, er freelancer

A blog by a designer and illustrator, for designers and illustrators which may contain musings on art, movies and random weirdness.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

The Zero Effect

I was going through some of my old VHS tapes last night and came across a movie that I haven't watched in several years. Popped it in and found that it was just as good as I remembered it. I am referring to "The Zero Effect"(1998) Written and directed by Jake Kasdan (son of Director Lawrence Kasdan) the movie is a modern-day detective story loosely based on the Sherlock Holmes story "A Scandal In Bohemia". Bill Pullman stars as Daryl Zero, a brilliant but eccentric, and very reclusive detective. Like Sherlock Holmes, he is only truly at his best when working on a case. When not working he secludes himself in his high-security apartment, writes and performs terrible songs, drinking Tab and eating Tuna from a can. Like Holmes, he also has a bit of a drug habit, taking amphetamines to keep his mind "sharp". His "Watson" is operative, associate and front man Steve Arlo (Ben Stiller). They are hired by wealthy businessman Gregory Stark (Ryan O'Neill) ostensibly to find his missing keys, but there is much more to the case than meets the eye and soon Arlo and Zero are immersed in a plot involving rape, murder, and blackmail. The movie is handled with a light and deft touch. The darker material never overwhelms the charm and light comic appeal of the main characters.

There are several things I really like about this film. Number one is Bill Pullman's brilliant performance. I often think of Bill Pullman as a bit of a lightweight in the acting department, but he really delivers the goods in this film. His character is an eccentric, ego-centric and troubled genius who borders on being an asshole, but you never find him to be so obnoxious as to be unappealing, because there is real intelligence, humor and a hint of vulnerability in Pullman's portrayal. His chemistry with Arlo (Ben Stiller, playing it mostly straight for once), is also very good. Much like the relationship between Holmes and Watson, their relationship is a strange male dance of admiration mutual need, and irritation. Like Watson, Arlo has a girlfriend, and she is getting tired of his prolonged absences and strange demands of his job . She thinks their relationship is "weird" and wants Arlo to leave Zero's employ. I couldn't help but make comparisons between the dynamics of this relationship triangle, and the interpretation of the same relationship in the recent "Sherlock Holmes". The relationship between Arlo and Zero actually feels truer to the original source material.

But the real heart of this movie is the developing relationship between Zero, and and the blackmailer Gloria Sullivan (Kim Dickens). Dickens plays her as a genuine and multi-faceted person, truly admirable in her determination, and intelligence, in spite of the fact that she is a blackmailer. Gloria essentially is the Irene Adler character of the story, and as in the original story, Zero/Holmes develops an admiration and empathy for the blackmailer. Starting as an adversary, Gloria and Daryl slowly develop from an almost offhanded initial meeting, to mutual attraction and respect. This, more than the mechanics of the blackmail plot, is where the film pays off. Their relationship draws Zero temporarily out of his shell, and helps to humanize his character. It is this that makes us care for this eccentric and brilliant man.

This movie came and went at the box office in 1998, and was largely overlooked by audiences, although critics , including Siskel and Ebert gave it "Two thumbs up, way up!".
If you get a chance check it out as a rental or on Netflix. I strongly recommend it.

1 comment:

  1. I'll help you out with the proper terminology for the Holmes/Watson relationship as portrayed in the most recent movie: "bromance". Courtesy of my ever-hip daughters.