Sadly, The Zeros is the sort of film that has come to define too much of independent cinema. It thinks it can pass over some of the basic mechanics of storytelling in favor of a whimsical, quirky tone, but tone can only get you so far.
Joe (Mackenzie Astin) is told by a doctor with all the bedside manner of an IRS agent that he's going to die from some unknown illness. They don't know how long Joe's got but it's not long, so the doctor gives him some medicated lollipops and tells Joe to fill his remaining days with steaks and sunsets. Joe, however, has a different idea. He wants to find a girl named Joyce (Jennifer Morrison) that he once knew when he was a boy. So he climbs into his car and sets out to track her down. Along the way he picks up Seth (John Ales) - a naïve cult member who begs Joe to take him away before the rest of the cult kills themselves, and Fanny - a budding young stripper that Joe wants to save, even though Fanny doesn't appear to need any saving at all. Joe passes through nursing homes, rollerskating strip clubs, cattle barns with exploding cows and a carnival before finally coming face to face with Joyce.
If that seems like a fairly thin story, it is. Throw in Joe and Seth picking up one of the world's worst ventriloquists on the side of the road and that's pretty much everything that happens. But The Zeros isn't really one of those movies where what happens is all that important. Instead it wants to slather you all over with alternating moods of bemusement and melancholy.
The best thing about this film is the last scene with Joe and Joyce where we finally find out why getting to see her before he dies is so important to Joe. Jennifer Morrison is very good in a difficult role, being asked to come on screen in the final minutes and live up to the audience's expectations. At first she doesn't even recognize Joe, but as she slowly remembers him and realizes what she means to him, you can see these slow tides of amazement, pity and regret wash over her face.
That closing scene would have been even better if the movie had done anything to really build up to it. It's clear that John Ryman started out with that final scene in mind and worked backwards, but instead of writing a script that slowly ramped up the emotions and kept us questioning what Joe really wanted out of Joyce, he wrote a script that just killed time with various little digressions that don't have anything to do with the final scene. The Zeros meanders across the screen without really focusing the audience's attention on any particular thing or in any particular direction. A lot of independent filmmakers seem to think that applying any sort of focus to their stories is artificial and contrived. They apparently love the idea that their films are like life, where stuff just happens and then it ends.
But a movie isn't like life. At its best, a movie is taking sections and elements of a life and condensing them down into around two hours. That condensation requires focus, so that the movie includes all the important things to the story and leaves out the trivial. Films like The Zeros, though, let the trivia make up too much of their story and asks the audience to assume much of the important stuff in their own minds.
The other good thing about this film is the performance of Rachel Wilson as Fanny. Even though she has little to do in the story, she's quite good as a living, breathing person who doesn't really fit in with the mopey existence of Joe and Seth. But the movie doesn't do anything with her until it just arbitrarily writes her and Seth of the story, only because both characters have to be gone for Ryman's ending to occur.
The Zeros is mildly diverting, but it's one of those unconventional films that actually would have been better if it had been more conventional. Even if you like it, you walk away from it wondering why you didn't like it even more.
Review by MBunge from the Internet Movie Database.