Zero Effect

Jake Kasdan (son of writer-director Lawrence) is shaping up to be a more interesting filmmaker than his dad has been lately. There are some rookie show-off quirks in this smart and heartfelt debut, such as when Ben Stiller, as the go-between for brilliant, reclusive private eye Daryl Zero (Bill Pullman), has a pivotal restaurant meeting with client Ryan O’Neal and the camera roves around so much it seems bored by the talk. But overall this is a fine, well-written comedy-drama about a modern-day Holmes-Watson team: the exasperated Stiller, sick of being at his employer’s beck and call, and the sly Pullman, an observational genius but hopeless outside of his cocoon of information. As Pullman gets close to a suspect (Kim Dickens) in his latest case, he’s drawn not quite kicking and screaming out of his own head and into the world of messy emotions, contradicting his own maxim that “passion is the enemy of precision.” The presence of Stiller may lead you to expect a light, quirky Gen-X spin on the detective genre, but it cuts deeper than that and ultimately pitches its tent in the bluesy territory of film noir without really trying to be an homage. In that respect, it’s a better neo-noir than the elder Kasdan’s own debut, the self-consciously overcooked Body Heat. Eminently worth a look.

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