With the World Cup taking a pause, before the quarter-finals, I suddenly found that I had a whole evening on my hands and nothing worthwhile on tv. So I decided to borrow a whodunit from the local library. The plot of ‘Zero Effect’ shows a lot of promise in the initial half an hour, but ultimately turns out to be fairly straightforward. However the charm of the movie lies in its characterization and the delightful narration.
The story has Holmesian shades with a brilliant but eccentric detective Daryl Zero (brilliantly essayed by Bill Pullman of Independence Day and While you were sleeping fame) as a protagonist and his doting “Watson” Steve Arlo (Ben Stiller in a competent performance). Daryl is a social misfit, a person who seldom leaves his apartment that resembles a safety vault. Daryl is eccentric to a fault and never interacts with his clients face to face. Its only when Daryl is on a case that he comes into his own and displays his superhuman powers of observation and objectivity. Steve is his representative and the voice and face of the firm. Steve both idolizes and loathes his employer. He seems to take vicarious pride in the sleuth’s skills and brilliance but hates the fact that he is ill treated by Daryl. The two are called upon to solve a case by a wealthy Mr Gregory Stark (Ryan O’Neal) who has lost the keys to his safe deposit box and is consequently being blackmailed due to the dubious nature of its contents. The case seems straightforward enough, find the keys and stop the blackmailer. It starts getting murkier when Daryl starts investigations and links it to dark events (notably a murder) that occurred more than two decades ago. His personal life gets complicated when a mysterious spunky woman Gloria Sullivan (Kim Dickens) arrives on the scene and they start dating. He has always prided himself on being able to read other people’s minds but with Gloria he seems to hit a stone wall.
The final denouement is delightful but by no means unpredictable. The lesson here is that one cannot change one’s basic nature. Your nature (both the good and evil aspects) may at times be dormant but at some point in time it will blossom and burst forth. I think writer director Jake Kasdan deliberately kept the plot predictable as he wanted the viewers to concentrate on the protagonists, their interactions and the human follies and tragedies that visit us all in our daily life.
The movie has a lot of comic moments and the stars especially Ben Stiller and Bill Pullman share a great rapport. The movie also rakes up the perennial ethical question that faces most of us working professionals. What is important the letter or the spirit of the law? Its obviously exacerbated by the nature of work of private investigators. The question is kept unanswered as there is probably no clear solution to it. The movie ends in a realistic fashion, no fairy tale endings with all loose ends neatly tied up. It seems and feels like the only solution.