Zero Effect

Ben Stiller plays Watson to Bill Pullman’s Holmes in a philosophically charged romantic mystery that’s also a muted comedy. A tycoon (Ryan O’Neal) is being blackmailed–though he won’t say why–and private investigator Daryl Zero is on the case. Zero’s eccentricities rival those of Jack Nicholson’s obsessive-compulsive in As Good as It Gets, but they’re presented with an even lighter touch, as if almost incidental to the fact that he hasn’t had a date in forever–making him one of the more believable hyperneurotics in cinema. To solve the crime, Zero uses an idiosyncratic combination of deductive and inductive reasoning, unnecessary disguises, and busywork that he assigns exclusively to his frustrated assistant. In the process he explores his own personality–a knotty blend of instinct and intellect that makes him an eloquent mouthpiece for the existential questions writer-director Jake Kasdan poses with youthful urgency and naivete and exceedingly dry humor. Evanston, Lake, Pipers Alley. –Lisa Alspector

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): film still.