Zero Effect
Theatrical release poster
Directed byJake Kasdan
Written byJake Kasdan
Based on"A Scandal in Bohemia"
by Arthur Conan Doyle
Produced by
CinematographyBill Pope
Edited byTara Timpone
Music byThe Greyboy Allstars
Distributed byColumbia Pictures[1]
Release date
  • January 30, 1998 (1998-01-30)
Running time
116 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$5 million[2]
Box office$2 million (US)[2]

Zero Effect is a 1998 American mystery comedy film written and directed by Jake Kasdan in his feature directional debut. Starring Bill Pullman as "the world's most private detective", Daryl Zero, and Ben Stiller as his assistant Steve Arlo, the film's plot is loosely based on the Arthur Conan Doyle short story "A Scandal in Bohemia".[3]

Shot in Portland, Oregon[4] and scored by The Greyboy Allstars, the film was screened in the Un Certain Regard section at the 1998 Cannes Film Festival.[5]

The film did not perform well at the box-office grossing $2 million with a budget of $5 million.


Daryl Zero is the world's greatest detective, but is also a socially maladroit misanthrope. Among his quirks is that he never meets or has direct contact with his clients, instead conducting business through his assistant, Steve Arlo. 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, who 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, an EMT with a mysterious past. Zero becomes attracted to Gloria and they sleep together, compromising his trademark objectivity. He lets his guard down and tells her that his mother was killed by his abusive father, who later committed suicide.

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

Zero eventually discovers that Stark had raped Gloria's mother after she broke up with him. 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 mother. Gloria grew up knowing that Stark was behind her mother's murder, and when her adoptive father (the hitman) contracted a terminal illness, she used the information to blackmail Stark, using the money to pay for medical treatment.

At the meeting to deliver the final blackmail payment, Stark collapses from a heart attack and Gloria is compelled to save his life. She then flees the country with Zero's assistance.



Released in January 1998 on Work Group, the official soundtrack for the film includes:

  1. "Mystery Dance" – Elvis Costello
  2. "One Dance" – Dan Bern
  3. "Starbucked" – Bond
  4. "Into My Arms" – Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds
  5. "Some Jingle Jangle Morning" – Mary Lou Lord
  6. "Emma J" – Brendan Benson
  7. "The Method Pt. 2" – The Greyboy Allstars
  8. "Drifting Along" – Jamiroquai
  9. "Till You Die" – Candy Butchers
  10. "Lounge" – Esthero
  11. "Blackmail Drop" – The Greyboy Allstars
  12. "Three Days" – Thermadore
  13. "Rest My Head Against the Wall" – Heatmiser
  14. "The Zero Effect" – The Greyboy Allstars


Rotten Tomatoes, a review aggregator, reports that 66% of 56 surveyed critics gave the film a positive review; the average rating is 6.8/10. The site's consensus reads: "A promising debut for writer/director Jake Kasdan, Zero Effect overcomes its flaws with its off-kilter humor and likeable leads."[6] Leonard Klady of Variety called it "scattershot entertainment that misses as often as it hits its targets".[7] Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times rated 3.5/4 stars and wrote that he was surprised by how involved he became in the film.[8] Janet Maslin of The New York Times wrote of the film's focus on the relation between Pullman and Stiller, "For all its admirable ambitions, this loosely focused first feature has the makings of a better buddy story than detective tale anyhow."[9] Jack Matthews of the Los Angeles Times called it "a confident first film and one of the freshest detective yarns to come along in a while".[10] Ruthe Stein of The San Francisco Chronicle rated it 2/4 stars and called it "more an interesting idea for a detective movie than it is an interesting film".[11] Lisa Schwarzbaum of Entertainment Weekly rated it C+ and called it "a very shaggy and minor comedy".[12] Geoff Andrew of Time Out London wrote, "Kasdan's is a very promising debut, its own dearth of feeling offset by able writing, engaging playing and a sure sense of pace."[13]

Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "C+" on an A+ to F scale.[14]

Television pilot

In 2002 Kasdan attempted to resurrect the character Daryl Zero for the NBC television network.[15] He shared the screenwriting duties with Walon Green and directed the pilot. He was also one of the producers. The series was intended to be a prequel, tracing the early adventures of Zero as he and Arlo became a team.[15] The pilot stars Alan Cumming as Zero and David Julian Hirsh as the Arlo character, renamed Jeff Winslow. The cast also features Krista Allen and Natasha Gregson Wagner.[16] NBC did not pick up the pilot.


  1. ^ a b "Zero Effect (1998)". AFI Catalog of Feature Films. Retrieved July 9, 2019.
  2. ^ a b "Zero Effect (1998)". The Numbers. Retrieved June 28, 2015.
  3. ^ Tobias, Scott (January 14, 2010). "Zero Effect". The AV Club. Retrieved August 8, 2021.
  4. ^ Mohan, Marc (June 4, 2014). "Angelina, Keanu and other big stars came to Portland to film these 5 under-the-radar indie movies". The Oregonian. Retrieved July 8, 2016.
  5. ^ "Festival de Cannes: Zero Effect". Retrieved October 4, 2009.
  6. ^ "Zero Effect (1997)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved June 20, 2023.
  7. ^ Klady, Leonard (January 22, 1998). "Review: 'Zero Effect'". Variety. Retrieved June 28, 2015.
  8. ^ Ebert, Roger (January 30, 1998). "Zero Effect". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved June 28, 2015 – via
  9. ^ Maslin, Janet (January 30, 1998). "Zero Effect (1998)". The New York Times. Retrieved June 28, 2015.
  10. ^ Matthews, Jack (January 30, 1998). "'Zero' Adds Up to a Fresh Detective Yarn". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved June 28, 2015.
  11. ^ Stein, Ruthe (January 30, 1998). "'Zero Effect' Fresh But Doesn't Add Up / Pullman shows comic talent". The San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved June 28, 2015.
  12. ^ Schwarzbaum, Lisa (February 13, 1998). "Zero Effect". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved June 28, 2015.
  13. ^ Andrew, Geoff. "Zero Effect". Time Out London. Retrieved June 28, 2015.
  14. ^ "CinemaScore". Archived from the original on December 20, 2018. Retrieved March 22, 2019.
  15. ^ a b Adalian, Josef; Michael Schneider (September 27, 2001). "Peacock will take Effect". Variety. Retrieved July 25, 2009.
  16. ^ Gans, Andrew (March 20, 2002). "Alan Cumming Lands NBC TV Pilot". Playbill. Retrieved March 2, 2022.