2016 - 102 minutes
Directed by: Ben Stiller
Written by: Justin Theroux, Stiller, John Hamburg, Nicholas Stoller
Starring: Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson, Will Ferrell, Penelope Cruz, Kristen Wiig, Fred Armisen, Kyle Mooney
It’s hard to do stupid right. As beloved cinematic dullards Spinal Tap so astutely observed, “It’s such a fine line between stupid and clever.” 2001’s Zoolander was clever. Zoolander 2 is stupid. 15 years ago writer/director/star Ben Stiller tapped in the vapidity, both real and perceived, of the fashion scene and pop culture. Male model Derek Zoolander was a clueless yet endearing guide through the empty glitz.
It was also a time when people were aware of fashion magazine campaigns and VH1 even aired a fashion awards show. Now, like most of current pop culture, fashion is mostly relegated to reality competition shows and clothing lines “created” by reality TV stars. Relying on a slew of weird, unfunny cameos and an unnecessarily complicated plot to generate absurdity, Zoolander 2 is as passé as the lifestyle the original film skewered so well.
In the decade and a half since Derek Zoolander (Stiller) foiled an assassination attempt on a world leader, his wife was killed in a tragic accident and his young son was taken away from him due to his inept parenting. The seizure of his son directly references the custody battle of Elian Gonzales, something that would’ve been a hot button issue way back when the first movie came out.
Following the heartbreak, Derek went into exile, calling himself a “hermit crab.” Meanwhile, Derek’s model competition turned ally Hansel (Owen Wilson) is in seclusion in the desert living with his “orgy” – a group that includes a chimney sweep, native warrior, and a sumo wrestler, among others. And Kiefer Sutherland.
The dimwitted duo is summoned to Rome by over-Botoxed and face-lifted fashionista Alexanya Atoz (Kristin Wiig) to star in an upcoming runway show. Upon their arrival, Derek and Hansel are also brought into an investigation headed by Valentina (Penélope Cruz), an official within the fashion division of Interpol. Celebrities are being murdered and Valentina believes Derek has the knowledge to help crack the case; if he helps her, she’ll help him get his son back.
There’s just way too much going on here. And the synopsis above doesn’t even include the secret society of fashion designers, the group of musicians sworn to protect a sacred bloodline, ritualistic sacrifice, the visions of Zoolander’s deceased wife, and the reintroduction of Mugatu (Will Ferrell), Derek’s old nemesis. None of the plot makes sense, which is fine in a farce, but when the plot is all you have, the diversions into the absurd are disjointed – compounded here by not being funny.
Wiig and Ferrell are the standouts, but they aren’t given enough screen time – Wiig’s pretentious accent is the most consistently amusing thing in the movie (and it’s not even that great). Stiller and Wilson are fine, each of them still showing a talent to articulate foolishness, but they’re so stuck in plot mechanics mode there’s no time to appreciate the stupidity. Cruz tries, but is just there to react.
There are plenty of current targets for Zoolander 2 to take aim at, but Stiller the writer/director is more interested in staging bits with celebrity cameos and cramming them into the narrative however possible. There’s an amusing scene with a selfie stick and there’s potential in the character Don Atari (Kyle Mooney), a douchey Millennial designer, but any relevant, clever commentary is swept away in favor of unfunny non sequiturs.
We get Benedict Cumberbatch as an androgynous model, Ariana Grande in a bondage mask, John Malkovich in fashion prison, Fred Armisen as a creepy-looking kid, Katy Perry singing on a rooftop, and many, many more random appearances. None of them are inspired, and all of them are indicative of the turn from the stupid fun of Zoolander to the brainlessness of Zoolander 2.