Steve Arlo, a long-suffering lawyer, works for the neurotic, eccentric, brilliant private investigator Daryl Zero, who is hired by tycoon Gregory Stark to see off a blackmailing mystery woman.
Boasting a name like Kasdan might grant a vital leg-up, but film is an unforgiving medium that parades shortcomings in glorious Technicolor. Which makes this writing/directorial debut of 22-year-old Jake (son of Lawrence) doubly impressive - shot through as it is with considerable confidence, flair and ability.
Daryl Zero (Pullman) is a brilliant but reclusive private investigator who liaises with clients solely through polished frontman Steve Arlo (Stiller), allowing him to observe and even interact with the relevant parties through a variety of false identities. But when powerful businessman Gregory Stark (O'Neal) hires Zero to find his keys, the detective is drawn into a tangled web which threatens his prized detachment.
In a role tailored for him after he and the then 13-year-old Kasdan met on dad's Accidental Tourist set, Pullman is superb as the near schizophrenic gumshoe - razor-sharp while working; self-obsessed and socially inept when not. And by centring on him within a classically styled murder mystery, this both harks back to Sam Spade and carries a thoroughly modern air. Indeed, Kasdan's major triumph is making this work on several levels: as an involving yarn concealing both whodunit and whattheydun, and a subtle, clever comedy that never needs to mug.
Stiller's tight line in restrained frustration is perfectly observed, and whereas Messrs Willis and Kilmer made proper berks of themselves in the disguise racket recently, here it rightly remains sideshow entertainment - a cheap, throwaway laugh incidental to the plot. A well rounded movie that puts many more experienced directors in the shade.
It's a shame low-budget American indies don't do franchises, because this unusual but traditional detective story introduced a private eye who deserves his own series