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. It was not that he felt any emotion akin to love for Irene Adler. All emotions, and that one particularly, were abhorrent to his cold, precise but admirably balanced mind. He was, I take it, the most perfect reasoning and observing machine that the world has seen, but as a lover he would have placed himself in a false position. He never spoke of the softer passions, save with a gibe and a sneer. They were admirable things for the observer—excellent for drawing the veil from men’s motives and actions. But for the trained reasoner to admit such intrusions into his own delicate and finely adjusted temperament was to introduce a distracting factor which might throw a doubt upon all his mental results. —Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, “A Scandal In Bohemia”
I watched the Zero Effect with Dr. H a few days ago and came to the realization that the JPFmovies original review of this great (yet sleeper) film was piss-poor and the movie deserved better. So here we go.
The Zero Effect is one of my favorite movies probably because it is based on the great Sherlock Holmes short story A Scandal in Bohemia by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle as quoted above. The film stars Bill Pullman as Daryl Zero (Sherlock Homes), a gifted but bizarre private detective who is socially awkward and inept when he is not on the job. His “Dr. Watson” is portrayed as Steve Arlo (Ben Stiller) a lawyer. Zero keeps himself locked in his apartment where, like Holmes and his violin, he composes dreadful songs on his guitar and subsists on a diet of tuna, Tab, and amphetamines (Holmes’ drug use included cocaine, morphine and other narcotics).
Put succinctly, the Zero Effect starts out as a case of a tycoon who lost his keys. The keys turn up in the place where most lost keys are found in between the cushions of the couch. From there, the story opens up into a tale of blackmail, family secrets and a decades-old murder for hire.
The film continues to mimic A Scandal in Bohemia. Zero is retained by Gregory Stark (Ryan O’Neal), a wealthy man who hires Zero to investigate who is blackmailing him. Likewise, Holmes is retained by his Majesty the King of Bohemia to find some compromising documents involving the King and his indiscretion with “the woman.” During the investigation, Zero ventures outside of his apartment encountering Gloria Sullivan (Kim Dickens) the film’s Irene Adler (Adler, as we know, was the only woman who had the wit to outdo Holmes, and he loved her for it). Sullivan is the blackmailer (like Adler) and as the film progresses, they begin to fall in love. While in the end of the film Zero bests his Adler, but because of his love and admiration for Sullivan, he lets her go with the blackmail money to hide from Stark who alludes to killing her.
There are even more detailed similarities between the ingredients of the Zero Effect and those of A Scandal in Bohemia, featuring the sole romantic imbroglio of Holmes’ career as one can see in the above passage—and a minimal one at that. Likewise, Daryl Zero experiences the only romantic predicament of his career with Gloria Sullivan—though significantly more explicit which can be attributed to the passage of time between the two works.
Additionally, both the film and the story use false fires to flush out the blackmailer. In the story, Watson tells us that “at the signal I tossed my rocket into the room with a cry of “Fire!” The word was no sooner out of my mouth than the whole crowd of spectators, well dressed and ill–gentlemen, ostlers, and servant-maids–joined in a general shriek of “Fire!” Thick clouds of smoke curled through the room and out at the open window. I caught a glimpse of rushing figures, and a moment later the voice of Holmes from within assuring them that it was a false alarm.”
Ryan O’Neal is instructed by the blackmailer (Sullivan) to pull the first fire alarm he sees after depositing the blackmail money at the drop point where Daryl Zero is waiting to see who emerges from the bathroom with the cash.
Written and directed by Jake Kasdan (son of the famed of Lawrence Kasdan whose career includes such works as Body Heat and Dreamcatcher) and considering the peculiar nature and tenor of the film, the Zero Effect should have a following akin to that of The Big Lebowski or Napoleon Dynamite. Unfortunately, even though technology now allows film watcher to find virtually any movie with little or no effort thereby turning previously disregarded films into cult classics, fate seems to have passed over the Zero Effect.