A mildly enjoyable update of the Sherlock Holmes story "A Scandal in Bohemia", Zero Effect features one of the more interesting characters to pop up in a feature film in some time -- Daryl Zero (Bill Pullman), who like old Sherlock, is a brilliant detective combining intuition and ridiculously keen observation; plays a musical instrument (in Zero's case, very badly); and a bit of a drug addict (to speed, instead of coke).
The plot itself is a nice meander, involving a blackmailed timber tycoon (Ryan O'Neal). The plot thickens quite often, and like any good mystery, each of the twists both answers a previous riddle while opening new ones. (It's all I could do to not mutter "ah-ha" during these scenes.) But the neatness of the plotting is in sharp contrast to Zero's emotional turbulence as the reclusive and detached detective finds himself falling for the #1 suspect : paramedic Gloria Sullivan (Kim Dickens). I've never seen Kim Dickens before, but she and Bill Pullman do quite good work -- I found their tentative and obviously star- crossed romance surprisingly effective. (Then again, being a rather emotionally detached individual myself; maybe I'm just simpatico with Zero's predicament)
There are problems with the film -- the dialogue is far too arch at times, and Ben Stiller as Watson to Zero's Holmes is wasted - he sets up the character of Daryl Zero effectively in a cunningly edited opener; but he becomes inconsequential by the end of the film. There's also an odd TV flatness to it -- the movie feels more like the pilot to a potentially cool TV series than a stand-alone feature film. Still, Zero Effect is the first bona-fide mystery I've seen in a movie theater in quite some time, and that's such a rare treat I'm willing to forgive its uneven aspects.