Terry Gilliam is a gifted, ambitious filmmaker who, sadly, may now be more famous for being misunderstood and underfunded than he is for actually making movies. The Zero Theorem isn't likely to reverse that equation. In this half-squirrelly, half-torpid sci-fi adventure, Christoph Waltz, with a shaved head and a face denuded of eyebrows, plays Qohen Leth, a lonely, put-upon programmer who toils away for a megacorporation known as Mancom. Qohen is unraveling emotionally. He's been waiting for years for a phone call, one that he's sure will magically change his life. He's so obsessed that he puts in a request to work from home, so he won't miss it when it comes. After a number of humiliating medical evaluations and an encounter with Mancom's big cheese (Matt Damon), his wish is granted — though his immediate boss, scrawny, weedy manager type Joby (David Thewlis), essentially punishes him with a programming assignment that's 1,000 percent impossible.
What is possible, though, is that at this point, nobody goes to a Terry Gilliam movie for the story — and that's probably wise. His visual inventiveness is the thing we're all interested in, and The Zero Theorem does serve up some wild and wonderful images. In our first glimpse of hotshot boss Matt Damon (his character goes by the simple and highly descriptive name "Management"), he's wearing a zebra-print suit while reclining in a zebra-print chair. That's the sort of bonkers visual drama at which Gilliam excels. Too bad the story tucked around all that production design is such a futuristic drag.