Film / Zero Effect

A 1998 mystery-comedy film directed by written and directed by Jake Kasdan (son of Lawrence Kasdan), starring Bill Pullman and Ben Stiller.

Daryl Zero (Pullman), a brilliant but reclusive private eye, traditionally works from afar with assistant Steve Arlo (Stiller) as his representative in the field. Socially awkward and inept but extraordinarily confident in his deductive abilities, Zero keeps himself locked in his apartment where he composes awful songs on his guitar and subsists on a diet of tuna, Tab, pretzels, Campbell's soup, and amphetamines. Zero and Arlo are retained by Corrupt Corporate Executive Gregory Stark (Ryan O'Neal) to investigate who is blackmailing him and stole his keys. Immediately, Zero is thrown into a quirky world of seduction, intrigue, comedy and double-crosses.

Pretty obviously based on the Sherlock Holmes story "A Scandal in Bohemia", down to specific traits that Zero and Holmes share and the eventual resolution of the plot — almost everything in the film has a direct Holmes parallel — although where it doesn't swipe from Holmes, it's doing a Raymond Chandler riff. It's arguably one of the best Holmes adaptations out there, even if Pullman's a bit bland for the role. A hidden gem Cult Classic, and highly recommended for lovers of the mystery genre.

The character of Daryl Zero was brought back for a One-Episode Wonder television adaptation in 2002, though it was not picked up by the network.

This Work Shows Examples Of The Following Tropes:

  • Beleaguered Assistant: Arlo. It does not helps any that Zero asks him to do insane things like flying to an airport halfway across the country to hear a request from him over the phone (which he's giving from the next booth over) to go check some facts on the same place he just left. The opening scene of the movie is Arlo talking to a potential client about the professionalism of Daryl, intercut with him giving a screaming tirade to a therapist about how Zero's eccentricity is driving him crazy.
  • Blackmail Backfire: A running sub-plot throughout the movie is Stark wanting to set one of these up (by arming himself and shooting the blackmailer if he ever meets him face-to-face) because the situation is making him incredibly paranoid and skittish. Arlo manages to talk him out of it once, the investigation gets a fire put under it because of this, and finally it doesn't happens because Stark ends up having a heart attack, forcing the blackmailer (his estranged paramedic daughter) to save his life.
  • Captain's Log / Private Eye Monologue: Seeing as how the narration is from Zero's memoirs but used in context. Think Burn Notice.
  • Defective Detective: The central premise of the film is that Darryl is the world's greatest detective while also being a complete loser in his personal life.
  • Expy: Daryl Zero is obviously one of these to Sherlock Holmes, although in his reclusiveness and refusal to leave his apartment unless absolutely necessary he also shares some similarities with Nero Wolfe.
  • Genius Slob: Darryl Zero dresses like a vagrant, has a weird diet & a messy apartment.
  • The Hermit: Zero's self imposed isolation is part of his process, getting involved makes one less objective.
  • The Watson: Arlo receives the exposition, though Darryl also explains his tactics to his memoir.
  • Title Drop: "And though I never would've anticipated it, in the end she did for me what I have done for so many: help solve a problem, first by observation, then by careful intervention... in other words, the Zero Effect."