I was invited by Chronological Snobbery to add a post to his week long coverage of Zero Effect’s ten year anniversary.
It’s a great idea, and I’m honored to be included. I had seen Zero Effect on video some ten years ago as I worked in a video store back in those days and videos were both easy to come by and delightfully free. I remember liking the film and when asked to participate in Chronological Snobbery’s coverage I thought it would be interesting to watch it again some ten years later and see how it held up.
Several things really stand out in watching this film again, some of them having to do directly with the movie and some of them not. The first and least movie related is the fact that I actually had difficulty concentrating on the film because my brain was filling up with so many memories of the time in my life when I had last watched this film. I was young (blissfully young!), and overall much happier, if only because I was in art school and enjoying the freedom and excitement of academia in general. It was before credit card debt, and nine to nine jobs, and all that crap that comes with ‘the real world’. Of course I paint the picture of happiness now, but then of course I could not see the forest for the trees and was often miserable. Miserable I wasn’t dating, miserable that I never seemed to have enough money, miserable because I wanted to move forward with my life. What an idiot. Hindsight is always 20/20 they say. Anyway, I must confess that these thoughts partially overshadowed the movie watching experience, and made it difficult for me to concentrate as much as I should have liked.
As for the movie itself, it held up pretty well, in that the story was still interesting and engaging and the “mystery” aspect was better than many you see these days with all their forced twists and turns. I was struck immediately with the memory of how much I used to like Ben Stiller, and he is good here, good like he was before he totally oversaturated the market with himself and all his neurotic over the top performances. I really like him here as the straight man.
Unfortunately, almost immediately, I also remember how much I dislike Bill Pullman in general, and ten years has made me like him even less. It’s not that he turns in a bad performance as much as the fact that I just don’t like the guy. I can’t help but think how much better the movie could have been with a different Daryl Zero. What about a young Philip Seymour Hoffman?
This issue with Bill Pullman becomes an even larger problem in that I found romantic relationship to be the least interesting aspect of the film, which is too bad. I found Kim Dickens an appealing and unique leading lady (if in looks alone) and the romance is well worked into the film, it’s integral to the plot and to the development of the Zero character, but I was pretty bored with it, there was no chemistry between these two leads, and I found myself much more interested in the idea of such a brilliant detective and how he works, but even that ends up being a let down, both because Pullman is so unlikeable to me, and also because for all his “crazy genius neurosis” he pretty easily assimilates as evidenced in his relationship with Dickens character. It seems like a lot of smoke and no fire in the end.
Zero Effect was made into television show in 2002, which I never saw, actually it’s unclear from IMDB if ANYONE has seen it as it claims NBC never picked it up. A shame, as it starred Alan Cummings, who in my mind would be a far superior Daryl Zero, as well as Krista Allen from HBO’s Unscripted. The Zero Effect is actually a great idea for a series as the mystery element is an interesting hook for a weekly show and the Zero character could be very well developed and explored more throughly in a weekly show than in a brief two hour film.
The Good: The concept, the mystery, the script, and Ben Stiller’s performance.
The Bad: The romance aspect of the film and the chemistry between Pullman and Dickens.
The Ugly: Bill Pullman, I just don’t like anything about the guy.
In the end, I find that I had previously given Zero Effect 3 stars in my netflix ratings, and after re-viewing it I decide to let the rating stand. I know I had a lot of complaints, but the interesting story and well written script keep it above the 2 star mark.