Zero Effect: Jack Kasdan’s Tale of Detective and his Assistant, Starring Bill Pullman and Ben Stiller

Written and directed by Jake Kasdan (son of writer-director Lawrence Kasdan), Zero Effect stars two gifted independent actors, Bill Pullman as “the world’s most private detective” Daryl Zero and Ben Stiller as his assistant Steve Arlo.

The plot of the film, which is sporadically entertaining and unpredictable, is loosely based on Arthur Conan Doyle’s short story, “A Scandal in Bohemia.”

Shot in Portland, Oregon, the film was scored by The Greyboy Allstars.

It was screened in the Un Certain Regard section at the 1998 Cannes Film Festival.

Great detective Daryl Zero (Bill Pullman), a misanthrope, never meets or has direct contact with his clients, instead conducting business through his assistant, Steve Arlo (Ben Stiller).

Throughout the movie, Zero provides narration as he reads lines from his proposed autobiography.

Zero and Arlo are hired by Portland area millionaire Gregory Stark (Ryan O’Neal). Stark has lost the key to a safe deposit box and is being blackmailed by an unknown person who forces him to follow elaborate instructions to deliver the cash payments. Zero quickly discovers that the blackmailer is Gloria Sullivan (Kim Dickens) an EMT with a mysterious past. Zero refuses to reveal Gloria’s identity to Stark until Zero understands why she is blackmailing Stark. Zero becomes attracted to Gloria, compromising his trademark objectivity.

Stark pressures Arlo to reveal the blackmailer’s identity so that he can have that person killed. Arlo must also deal with Zero’s somewhat absurd demands on his time, which increasingly interfere with Arlo’s relationship with his girlfriend Jess.

Zero eventually discovers that Stark had been obsessed with Gloria’s mother following a brief romantic relationship when the two were in college. She later blackmailed Stark with the threat of exposing him as a rapist, so he had her killed. However, she had already given birth to their daughter Gloria, who was discovered and raised by the hitman who killed her. Gloria grew up knowing that Stark was behind her mother’s murder, and when her adoptive father contracted a terminal illness, she used the information to pay for medical treatment. At the meeting to deliver the final blackmail payment, Stark collapses from a heart attack and Gloria saves his life, before fleeing the country with Zero’s assistance.

Though uneven, Zero Effect has an accumulated impact, and it certainly know how to delight young hip viewers with its black humor and twists and turns.


Bill Pullman as Daryl Zero

Ben Stiller as Steve Arlo

Ryan O’Neal as Gregory Stark

Kim Dickens as Gloria Sullivan

Angela Featherstone as Jess