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Underrated & Under Appreciated: Zero Effect (1998)



Over the last few years there’s been a few attempts at reimagining and modernizing the Sherlock Holmes mythos with movies like Sherlock Holmes and TV series Sherlock and Elementary. I think one of the best reimaginings of the ideas behind the Holmes stories is the movie Zero Effect.

Bill Pullman and Ben Stiller in Zero Effect

Bill Pullman and Ben Stiller in Zero Effect

Here, Bill Pullman plays Daryl Zero, a reclusive Howard Hughes-like private investigator who is so good at what he does he’s paid an obscene amount of money for his services. Zero and associate Steve Arlo (Ben Stiller) are hired by businessman Gregory Stark (Ryan O’Neal) to find out who’s been blackmailing him. But the case, of course, isn’t as it seems and as Zero instantly uncovers the true identity of the blackmailer, the question Zero wants answered is why is this person targeting Stark in the first place?

While most versions of the Sherlock Holmes character are, if a bit eccentric, are none-the-less put together and suave. Daryl Zero isn’t. He’s practically a shut-in, eating only tuna and drinking Tab locked in and alone in his penthouse apartment between cases. But when Zero is on a case that excited him he becomes almost manic and uses his skills of careful observation, a mastery of disguise and almost limitless bank account to get to the bottom of almost any mystery.

And that’s where the real fun of Zero Effect comes from, Zero is a total screw-up most of the time, doesn’t take the feelings of others into account and is a pretty gross person overall. But he does this one thing really, really well. Daryl Zero might not make a good friend, but he’s someone you’d want to be on your side in a pinch.

Unfortunately audiences stayed away from Zero Effect when it was first released and it earned a paltry reported $2 million at the box office. Ever since I saw the movie for the first time a decade ago I’ve been waiting for others to find this movie on TV or DVD, but so far it hasn’t happened. Here’s hoping some new generation of film fans will discover this underrated and under appreciated gem.

Zero Effect is available on DVD and Amazon Instant.

“Now, a few words on looking for things. When you go looking for something specific, your chances of finding it are very bad. Because of all the things in the world, you’re only looking for one of them. When you go looking for anything at all, your chances of finding it are very good. Because of all the things in the world, you’re sure to find some of them. ”
-Daryl Zero