Zero Effect.

All the hullabaloo over Tropic Thunder (well-deserved, by the way—it’s a sensation, which elevates Ben Stiller to a new level of movie stardom, and ought to earn Oscar nominations for Stiller in the direction and screenwriting categories, and best-supporting-actor nominations for Jack Black and Robert Downey, Jr.) reminds me to mention a very good movie I netflixed recently.

Zero Effect, from 1998, was Jake Kasdan’s first directorial effort (which is why I rented it—I’m an admirer of his screenwriting and directing work), and stars Bill Pullman as Daryl Zero, a kind of modern-day Sherlock Holmes with very bad OCD. Stiller is his Watson, and Kim Dickens (Joanie from the Bella Union in Deadwood) rounds out the excellent leading cast. If you remember Cutter’s Way (1981) with fondness, I think you’ll like Zero Effect. Zero is lighter and funnier, somewhere between a modern comedy and a film noir, but (thanks be praised) it is not a “send-up” of any genre. It wants to be its own movie, and it is. While you are never far away from the next laugh, smile, or brain-tickle, a river of melancholy runs through it that lends the movie emotional weight. Stiller gives a good, nuanced performance, not at all a “high concept comedy” performance. The movie is an interesting hybrid, and, if not 100% artistically successful, is good enough to be worth your time. I’d place it near the top of all I’ve rented in the last year.

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