I have 460 movies in my Netflix Instant queue. I tend to watch one thing for every five that I add, but now my library is close to being full and I have to make room. So, every Monday I’m going to pick a random movie out of my queue and review the shit out of it. But (like Jesus), I’m also thinking of you and your unwieldy queue and all the movies in it you want to watch but no longer have the time to now that you’ve become so awesome and popular. Let me know what has been gathering digital dust in your Netflix Instant library and I’ll watch that, too. One Monday for you and the next for me and so on. Let’s get to it.
What’s the movie? Zero Effect (1998)
What’s it rated? Bill Pullman getting all up in some scenery, Ben Stiller actually being subtle and the least erotic sex scene since that video I made with a goat and some midgets.
Did people make it? Written and Directed by Jake Kasdan. Acted by Bill Pullman, Ben Stiller, Kim Dickens, Ryan O’Neal, Angela Featherstone and Hugh Ross.
What’s it like in one sentence? A hard boiled detective story sans the noir.
Why did you watch it? andrewhawkins once again threw down the rubber gloves.
What’s it about in one paragraph? Private detective Daryl Zero (Pullman), along with his assistant Steve Arlo (Stiller), has been hired by a timber magnate in Oregon to find whoever stole his keys to a mysterious post office box and is blackmailing him to keep the contents a secret. While Daryl Zero is the self professed “greatest observer the world has ever known”, he’s also pretty mentally disturbed and incapable of doing a lot of mundane things, so his personality is constantly getting in the way of solving the case. Can Daryl get over his personal demons long enough to figure out the mystery, or will he become a fearful shut in, living off frozen dinners while writing sad power ballads? Only watching this movie will tell.
Play or remove from my queue? Play it for the originality alone. Zero Effect is really well written and acted and moves at a brisk pack, but I think ultimately it’s pretty forgettable, as the mystery that unfolds isn’t nearly as interesting as the characters involved. Specifically, Zero and Kim Dicken’s character Gloria Sullivan are so well drawn that putting them against any sort of mystery would inherently make the mystery better, as it does here, but under close examination the mystery (while being clever and original) just doesn’t hold the same interest as the characters do. Finding out who is behind the blackmail so early in the film adds to the originality of the script and structure, but takes away from and intensity or drama that might have been wrung out of the story. Some would argue that the mystery isn’t important and that’s why it’s so easily solved, but if that were the case then much less time should have been spent on it.
The characters are so much more interesting than the story they’re in that the entire movie tends to feel like a two hour pilot that never got picked up. Nothing about this film feels completed or that Kasdan’s entire story was told here. While researching the film, I saw that Kasdan also shot a pilot for a Zero Effect 4 years later in 2002 with Alan Cumming as Daryl Zero. It didn’t get picked up for a series, which is a shame because now I have to dedicate my life to finding that pilot and seeing Cumming’s take on the character. I guess it’s a sign that the movie is successful (content-wise) when I want to see more films or a show that takes place in this world, but I guess it’s a bad sign that the film didn’t tell a complete enough story for me to be content with just its existence.
I just loved Zero and Arlo so much that I just wanted more of them and their relationship instead of what amounted to a procedural case-of-the-week type blackmail plot. It’s the same thing with shows like Fringe and Supernatural: the characters and mythology are rich enough that their need to tell a one-off mystery every week instead of focusing on some of the more interesting aspects of the series can sometimes amount to one giant cock tease of a season (like Season 4 of Fringe so far). Zero Effect feels like the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the story it’s trying to tell with these characters, and so in that regard doesn’t feel fully satisfying, but the movie is still damn entertaining and worth your time, nonetheless. Six seasons and a movie.
Do you have a favorite line? Ben Stiller trying to reason with Pullman’s Daryl Zero: “There aren’t good guys. You realize that, don’t you? I mean: there aren’t evil guys and innocent guys. It’s just- it’s just…it’s just a bunch of guys.”
Do you have an interesting fun-fact? This movie flopped pretty bad (only making around 2 million back on a 5 million budget), but it was good enough to allow Jake Kasdan to eventually direct episodes of two of my favorite comedies of all time: Freaks and Geeks and Undeclared.
What does Netflix say I’d like if I like this? The Independent (Starring Jerry Stiller and an amazing cast. Anyone seen this?), The Marc Pease Experience (Jason Schwartzman and Ben Stiller but also Anna Kendrick who I think is painfully one note), Milwaukee, Minnesota (Been meaning to watch this for years), The Million Dollar Hotel (I tried to watch this years ago because I thought it was New Rose Hotel and I was on an Asia Argento kick. This is not that movie), Don McKay (Been saving this one for a rainy day. I loves me some Thomas Haden Church almost as much as I loves me some Elizabeth Shue).
What does Jared say I’d like if I like this? They aren’t really similar, but if you like Bill Pullman and haven’t seen Surveillance yet, rectify them shits. That was one of my biggest movie surprises last year and even if you guess the ending before it comes, you’ll still be hypnotized.
What is Netflix’s best guess for Jared? 4.0
What is Jared’s best guess for Jared? 3.0
Can you link to the movie? I sure can!
Any last thoughts? It’s worth your time, although, like Asian food, it isn’t nourishing for very long but is awfully tasty while going down. That metaphor might not have worked as well as I’d hoped.
Did you watch anything else this week? I watched The Eagle which I thought was mostly badass except for a weak sauce ending. I watched Tigerland again, which is still a damn fine movie and really makes me wonder what the fuck happened to Joel Schumacher. Also, I watched Rare Exports and giggled at how fucking insane that shit is.
Next Week? I really want to do The Last Circus, but I also still like the idea of following movies over that connect. If we did that then I say we follow Ben Stiller over to Highway to Hell or we follow Bill Pullman over to Peacock. Once again, the choice is yours.