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As far as I can remember (it's hard to check since I don't think there has ever been a region 2 DVD) the fantastic but under appreciated movie Zero Effect featured a somewhat reclusive private eye whose sidekick did his publicity. He was also a genius detective whose major failure involved a female criminal.

The recent Sherlock Holmes remakes (the modern BBC version and the Guy Ritchie Movies) both somehow reminded me of Zero Effect and made me as two questions: why is it impossible to find on DVD or online (at least in Europe)? and was it intended as a sort of modern version of Sherlock (15 years before the BBC did Sherlock)?

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3 Answers 3

up vote 9 down vote accepted

I can't answer the question about region 2 DVDs, but the similarities between Zero Effect and Sherlock Holmes are not a coincidence. The film review The Zero Effect–Out of the Dung Heap and Into the Rose Garden points out many of the similarities between the two.

The Zero Effect ... is based on the great Sherlock Holmes short story A Scandal in Bohemia by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The film stars Bill Pullman as Daryl Zero (Sherlock Homes), a gifted but strange private detective who is socially awkward and inept. His “Dr. Watson” is portrayed as Steve Arlo (Ben Stiller). 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 morphine and other narcotics).

Paralleling 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. During the investigation Zero ventures outside of his apartment encountering Gloria Sullivan (Kim Dickens). Gloria is based on the character Irene Adler, the only woman who had the wit to outdo Holmes, and he admired her for it. Sullivan is the blackmailer (like Adler) and as the film progresses, they begin to fall in love.

The similarities between the characters Zero and Holmes:

  • brilliant detective
  • strange personality
  • social awkwardness
  • lives alone
  • faithful sidekick
  • plays a musical instrument
  • drug use

are also shared by another TV character inspired by Holmes.

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Sounds like the correct answer to accept. –  Sonny Burnett May 17 '12 at 20:02

Zero Effect ousted itself to me as as a modern take on Sherlock Holmes (and had been my undisputed favorite modern adaptation until the new BBC series) with the opening and closing lines of the movie- Arlo says to a prospective client that "...He doesn't negotiate his fee. He works at a flat rate. Under some unusual circumstances, he'll work pro bono - never in between." and in The Problem of Thor Bridge Holmes says "My professional charges are upon a fixed scale, I do not vary them, save when I remit them altogether."

In the opening lines of A Scandal in Bohemia, Watson writes, "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...there was but one woman to him, and that woman was the late Irene Adler, of dubious and questionable memory." The closing lines of Zero's report on the case he says "Perhaps the most able blackmailer of her time, she was at once the worthiest opponent and the greatest ally, and the only woman I have ever... the only woman, period."

Zero also says, in a seeming nod and wink to Watson himself, that though he tried to get Arlo to write of his exploits, he has refused to do so, and so has taken it upon himself to write the book.

EDIT: Upon close examination, I saw a couple other linguistic similarities in lines between Zero Effect and Sherlock Holmes; again, in Arlo's description of Zero in the beginning of the film he says of Daryl, "When private investigation won its most worthy champion, academia and the arts suffered a loss- a great loss." And in A Scandal in Bohemia, Watson writes "The stage lost a fine actor, even as science lost an acute reasoner, when he became a specialist in crime."

Zero says in in voice-over of his book-in-progress, "Passion is the enemy of precision." And Watson writes, also in the opening paragraph of A Scandal in Bohemia, "All emotions, and [love] particularly, were abhorrent to his cold, precise but admirably balanced mind...Grit in a sensitive instrument, or a crack in one of his high-power lenses, would not be more disturbing than a strong emotion in a nature such as his."

Also, at the end, Arlo leaves Zero to get married, which Watson also did to Holmes, although at the conclusion of The Sign of Four and a little time prior to the events of A Scandal in Bohemia.

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It certainly seems that way, with the "Extreme Deduction" method of detective work. I haven't found any primary source on it, but Roger Ebert is good enough for me.

"So one finds his way into Zero Effect in the form of Daryl Zero, an aging hippie Sherlock Holmes with the household habits of a Howard Hughes…"

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Hi nickgb, and welcome to Movies.StackExchange! –  DForck42 Jan 27 '12 at 20:23

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