Sherlock Holmes proved it long ago: Emotional dunderheadedness may be personally debilitating, but it’s of little professional consequence in a superior sleuth. In Zero Effect (Columbia), first-time film writer-director Jake Kasdan takes the premise and pushes it, with gangly energy, to its this-amp-goes-to-11 limit: Daryl Zero (Bill Pullman), the private-eye hero of this amiably unkempt adventure, is so brilliant he can solve cases without even leaving his house. Then again, he’s so socially stunted, he’s barely able to leave his pad anyhow, preferring to let his put-upon frontman (Ben Stiller) act on his behalf while he jumps up and down on his bed, playing really bad rock & roll on an expensive guitar. Still, a challenging case drags Zero into the fresh air (of Portland, Ore.), and by the time the puzzle pieces interlock, he will have uncovered secrets about a timber tycoon (Ryan O’Neal — and how nice to see him, relaxed and sassy) and an attractive paramedic (Kim Dickens).
Zero Effect is a very shaggy and minor comedy, but at least (1) 23-year-old Kasdan (son of Hollywood player Lawrence Kasdan, FYI) entertains a more generous, more creative idea than, say, a wacky portrait of his L.A. childhood; (2) Stiller zooms around likably as a man who both loves and hates his boss; and (3) in a thanklessly ill-defined leading role, Pullman, that fine vanilla pudding of an actor, does the thing he does best, gamely throwing raisins of idiosyncrasy our way until something sticks. C+