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A scent-evoked memory of 'Zero Effect'

Ben Stiller & Bill Pullman in "Zero Effect" (1998)
Ben Stiller & Bill Pullman in "Zero Effect" (1998)

I visited the new Evergreen library the other day and I highly recommend you take a trip up there just to see the gorgeous art. But I had a reaction I didn’t expect when I went in—one of my first thoughts was, “this place smells just like Blockbuster Video.”

Now, it’s not what you think, I don’t mean the smell of popcorn and late fees. Realistically, it was probably just the new carpet, but it’s a smell you wouldn’t notice if you hadn’t spent many, many, many hours inside a Blockbuster—which I did, because like a lot of movie nuts, I worked there when I was in college. And a whole flood of feelings came rushing back to me, most of them related to the movies I watched over and over on the monitors at the store, usually movies that skirted the boundaries of what we were allowed to play. No sex, not too much violence, and maybe just a few curse words that we hoped no one would hear. The Color of Money was a favorite. Army of Darkness, too, if we thought things might be slow that night.

But one that I really fell in love with was the 1998 mystery-comedy Zero Effect, which stars Bill Pullman as the world’s greatest detective, Daryl Zero, and Ben Stiller as his exasperated assistant. Exasperated, because Daryl Zero is a misanthropic, socially stunted egomaniac who nevertheless becomes smooth as silk when he gets out into the world to investigate a case. Here, he’s investigating a blackmailing scheme when he gets a little too close to his prime suspect. Zero peppers the movie with his principles of investigation, one of which is never get too close, but my favorite of which is the best way to search a room:

When you go looking for something specific, your chances of finding it are very bad. Because of all the things in the world, you’re only looking for one of them. When you go looking for anything at all, your chances of finding it are very good. Because of all the things in the world, you’re bound to find some of them.

Truer words were never spoken, Daryl Zero.

Fletcher Powell has worked at KMUW since 2009 as a producer, reporter, and host. He's been the host of All Things Considered since 2012 and KMUW's movie critic since 2016. Fletcher is a member of the Critics Choice Association.