Daryl Zero is the world's greatest private detective but, as summed up in
today's buzzwords, the man has some serious issues. We learn all about him,
good and bad, from two conversations at the start of the film. In the first,
Zero's mouthpiece is meeting with a client and giving a sales pitch. (Zero
never meets with anyone unless he is assuming a false identity.) In the second
conversation, the same mouthpiece is complaining about his eccentric employer
while conversing candidly with a close friend, his tongue set free by the twin
liberators of trust and alcohol. We learn that Zero really is as good as his
billing when it comes to detective work, but is more or less a complete
failure - a Zero, if you will - at any form of normal social interaction. He
has never been seen with a woman. When not solving a mystery, he is paranoid,
tactless, agoraphobic, and delusional. He resides securely behind an
impenetrable door which was intended to be a bank vault. If an intruder could
somehow breach that barrier, he would then be confronted with an anfractuous
maze of doors and corridors. If the intruder could somehow solve the maze and
reach the door to Zero's actual residence, he would require about a dozen keys
to navigate its locks. The frustrated mouthpiece must navigate these same
hurdles just to report to his boss face-to-face.
The film's basic premise intrigues us in the early going, but the narrative
is too talky, since the script essentially tells us about Zero through the
dual monologues of the mouthpiece, rather than through situations. We get
tired of watching a talking head shot, but the concept gets our attention
Once the mouthpiece has made his way to the inner sanctum, we begin to
suspect we have been had, and that the film will be nothing more than a
surreal farce, an episode of Ace Ventura, Pet Detective, except without the
pets. Zero has been playing one of his cacophonous musical compositions and he
asks the mouthpiece if he likes it. We already know from the opening monologue
that the mouthpiece hates Zero's music, but he tactfully says, "Yes." His body
language and the tone of his voice would tell us he is lying even if we had
not already heard his frank opinion, but Zero does not seem to notice.
Wait just one second here.
Zero's character exposition already informed us that he was the greatest
analyst of human behavior in history, and that he was utterly tactless.
Granting those points, Zero must know that the mouthpiece is lying, and must
immediately note the lie with a rude remark. But Zero seems utterly clueless
to signs that could be picked up by a fifth grader. Huh? So are we to think
that everything we have heard about Zero is a lie? No, not at all. Zero later
proves to be exactly as first billed. The confusion is caused by a sloppy
piece of screenwriting.
So the film does not get off to an exceptionally good start. First there is
too much narration. Then, when we have heard Zero described, presumably
honestly, he has not lived up to our expectations. Furthermore Daryl Zero and
his mouthpiece both seem like asses at that point. I almost gave up on the
film right then and there.
I'm glad I didn't because Zero Effect is a terrific film. Whatever
clumsiness was being experienced by the author in those early scenes is
overcome completely, and the film evolves into quite a nifty little noir. Zero
is hired to find out who is blackmailing a magnate. It turns out that the
blackmailer is the good guy (girl, in this case), and the high-rolling client
is a murderous ass. It also turns out that the blackmailer is approximately as
smart as Zero himself, and engages him in an intriguing little game of cat and
mouse. He comes not only to respect her, but to love her as well. That places
him squarely on the horns of a dilemma. If he satisfies his client and
identifies the blackmailer, the client will kill her. But if he saves the
woman he loves, he will sully his impeccable reputation and ruin his perfect
record of client satisfaction. Quite the quandary.
Well, Zero is the smartest guy in the world, so we know he'll figure
it all out somehow, but finding out how he does it is what keeps us watching.
As we watch, we overcome our initial judgment that Mr Zero is an utter
asshole. We even start to like his sardonic mouthpiece, because we realize
that working for Daryl Zero is about as demanding as any job has ever been,
and even a slick, stylish lawyer may have ideals, sweetness, and a loving
relationship at home which is constantly strained by Mr Zero's demands.
The film's complex narrative and its many plot contrivances are clearly
inspired by the noir films of the 1940s and 1950s, but that derivation is
restricted solely to the plot. The character of Daryl Zero comes from a
completely different world. Zero is not a role to be played by Bogart or
Mitchum. Unlike the detectives played by those icons, Zero is never in the
dark, never taciturn, never on the edge of poverty, never a mature adult, and
never physical. He never throws a punch, and has no idea how to use a handgun.
His world is the world of the mind, he's a kid playing a real-life computer
game. Because he works in disguises and false identities and never meets with
the clients, nobody but his mouthpiece even knows who he is or what he looks
like. In an earlier time he would have been played by someone like Basil
Rathbone or Christopher Lee or James Woods, someone cunning, blunt-spoken,
aloof and intimidatingly smart, someone we are not supposed to find cuddly.
In short, Zero is Sherlock Holmes a hundred years later. It is no
coincidence that the film takes various bits of inspiration from Arthur Conan
Doyle's "A Scandal in Bohemia." Conan Doyle, writing through Dr. Watson, said
this of Irene Adler: "There was but one woman to (Holmes), and that woman was
the late Irene Adler, of dubious and questionable memory. To Sherlock Holmes
she is always THE woman. I have seldom heard him mention her under any other
name. In his eyes she eclipses and predominates the whole of her sex." The
blackmailer in Zero Effect is Daryl Zero's Irene Adler, and his diary entry
about her reads, "She is the only woman I ... (pause for correction) ...
She is the only woman."
Of course, Zero Effect is a much funnier film than anything we might expect
from Sherlock Holmes. Yes, it is a mystery and an offbeat love story, but it
also includes many comic elements, as you can deduce from my description of
Zero's apartment building. It walks the line between comedy and noir, and does
so quite effectively. That's a difficult line to walk, and it's amazing that a
23-year-old making his maiden voyage as a writer/director maintained his
balance on that line and rarely slipped up, because that kind of challenge has
defeated many an old industry pro.
In creating this film, young Jake Kasdan, did about as well as an auteur in
a first film as anyone in history not named Welles. It is downright astounding
that a film this good, this smart, and this much fun to watch was basically
the work of one guy about the age of a college senior. Of course, Kasdan has
some pretty good genes workin' for him. His dad Lawrence wrote a few films you
may have heard of: The Empire Strikes Back, Body Heat, Raiders of the Lost
Ark, The Big Chill ...
But genes or no genes, the kid still had to get the job done. And that he
Regrettably, there is no nudity, but Angela Featherstone looked good in a
chartreuse bathing suit, and Kim Dickens poked through t-shirts.
Fool's Gold is a film in which Matthew McConaughey and Kate Hudson, as ex-spouses,
hunt for sunken Spanish treasure while they bicker and flirt and bicker and
fall in love all over again. How much of a review do you need? Everything that
you would expect to happen does happen in the exact order in which you would
expect it, with one exception. For some reason, there are no sharks.
This sort of adventure/rom-com can be fun if the supporting players provide
entertainment along the way, but I regret to report that Matthew and Kate are
the best elements of the film. The supporting cast engaged in a rather
curious contest to see which of them could play the least credible character:
- Ewen Bremner, a Scot, talked with a cartoon Ukrainian accent.
- Canadian Donald Sutherland talked with some kind of stuffy pseudo-English
- Alexis Dziena did an exaggerated impersonation of Paris Hilton, as if
Paris needed exaggeration.
- Kevin Hart, as the alleged heavy, did a grade-B Chris Tucker
imitation, except less masculine.
- The award for the silliest characterization of all went to Ray Winstone, who
made an absolutely ludicrous attempt at
some kind of southern American drawl, which ended up sounding like a high
school kid from Massachusetts doing an impersonation of Foghorn Leghorn.
Those five people didn't even try to raise their performances above the
level of stock characterizations from cheesy old TV sitcoms. If Larry Storch
and Huntz Hall could have time-traveled into this movie, they would have been
the subtlest character actors.
As for McConaughey and Hudson ... well, they did what they always do. If
you like that, go for it.
- Metacritic: 20/100
- Rotten Tomatoes: 10% positive reviews.
The only nudity came from two bit players named Clementine Heath and Ashley Cheadle, who flashed McConaughey from a passing boat as our ever-shirtless