Private investigators investigate things privately…
I have never liked films about PI’s. They all seem derivative and unoriginal to me. I don’t think the genre has moved on much since Sherlock Holmes. Even Chinatown didn’t do a great deal for me. Zero Effect suffers from the usual lack on imagination inherent in film noir.
Brilliant but troubled PI solves puzzles using unorthodox techniques while his long suffering sidekick tries to keep him on track. Recent HBO show Bored to Death tried to reverse this trend by having an ineffectual comedy detective but the overall film noir feel of that show ensured it still succumbed to genre trappings. All of this is a shame because the three main players here are all really good. Ryan O Neal is great and believable, grounding the film and adding a bit of drama to an otherwise light hearted flick. Ben Stiller always does better in less ‘zany’ roles and he is restrained and solid. The star of the show though is Bill Pullman. Despite playing a cliché character he adds an enigmatic air of mystery to a role that is difficult to pin down. Pullman also enjoys the funniest lines.
Zero Effect is not a film I enjoyed but maybe that is just because it is not really my thing rather than the film itself being bad, although it does suffer from not knowing whether it wants to be a comedy or a crime drama.