A film review by Craig J. Koban February 20, 2016

ZOOLANDER 2 jj
½ 

2016, PG-13, 108 mins.

 

Ben Stiller as Derek Zoolander  /  Owen Wilson as Hansel  /  Will Ferrell as Mugatu  /  Penélope Cruz as Valentina  /  Kristen Wiig as Alexanya Atoz  /  Benedict Cumberbatch as All  /  Christine Taylor as Matilda Jeffries  /  Cyrus Arnold as Derek Jr.  /  Justin Bieber as Himself  /  Beck Bennett as Geoff Mille

Directed by Ben Stiller  /  Written by Stiller, Justin Theroux, Nicholas Stoller, and John Hamburg

I typically love comedies about hopelessly clueless idiots.  

This is probably why I adored the first ZOOLANDER film back in 2001, which featured a main character as intellectually vacant as they came that paraded around in a delightfully madcap and hilarious send up of the fashion industry as a whole.  Probably only second to the first ANCHORMAN as one of the most quoted comedies of the 2000’s, ZOOLANDER was a really, really, really ridiculously bad looking victim of release timing.  Coming out two weeks after 9/11, Ben Stiller’s film failed to connect with an audience base that was still in a place of deep mourning.  Even though a box office disappointment, the comedy went on to achieve a cherished cult status, and fans of the pouty mouthed, Blue Steel adorned model that was amazing at delivering “eugooglies” demanded a sequel. 

ZOOLANDER 2, much like its antecedent, is also a victim of its own poor timing.  Movies like DUMB AND DUMBER TO proved that successfully launching follow-up efforts to established comedy classics well after the fact is a daunting challenge in terms of maintaining the original's spirited momentum of capricious energy.  It’s been over 15 years since Derek Zoolander and Hansel (he’s still so hot right now!) brought their endearingly oblivious and blissfully empty minded hijinks to the silver screen, and some would easily argue that it’s all a bit too little, too late for the series.  The best accolade I could say about ZOOLANDER 2 is that it’s still a supreme pleasure witnessing Stiller and Owen Wilson together again on screen, seeing as they have an effortless and unforced chemistry when playing morons of the highest order.  Like the previous entry, the sequel also embraces its sheer ludicrousness without apologizing for it, not to mention that its jabs at the fashion and media industry stings with an infectiously subversive edge.  Unfortunately, an overall lack of inspired freshness taints this film.  That, and for every spirited gag that Stiller nails, there’s an unpardonable number of others that sit listlessly on the screen begging for chuckles. 

 

 

At least the film opens with Justin Bieber’s murder, which is as perversely funny as it sounds (especially in terms of how the young pop star takes seemingly forever to find just the right Instagram filter for his pre-death selfie).  It appears that someone is killing off a whole whack of attractive celebrities, and Fashion Interpol – lead by Valentina (Penelope Cruz) – is desperate to uncover the perpetrator.  She realizes that the only person alive (uh-huh) that may be able to piece together the clues to help Interpol find the killer is Derek Zoolander…who has essentially vanished off of the face of the earth.  As shown in the first film, Derek was one of the most adored male models in his industry, but he has long since become a “hermit-crab” after the accidental death of his wife Matilda.  She was killed when the Derek Zoolander Center for Kids Who Can’t Read Good imploded due to shoddy construction right on top of her.  It appears that poor Derek used the same building materials for it…that was used on its small-scale architectural model.  

Interpol does manage to locate Derek – with some help from, of course, Billy Zane – in “Extreme Northern New Jersey,” where the former fashion icon with chiseled abs and stunning features has been reduced to the shell of the man he once was.  He longs to get back to the top of the fashion world and re-unite with his estranged son, who's now living in an orphanage due to Derek’s inordinately bad parenting.  The deeply depressed and reclusive Derek begrudgingly decides to come out of hiding (miraculously, Uber shows up to take him away from his “remote” hiding spot) and joins up not only with Valentina, but also with his old BFF Hansel to uncover the murderous plot to kill the world’s most attractive people.  It doesn’t take too long for them to realize that Derek’s arch-nemesis in Mugatu (Will Ferrell) is pulling all the strings with his co-conspirator Alexanya Atoz (Kristen Wiig), a fashion god that is hilariously gifted at meticulously mispronouncing simple words. 

On a positive, ZOOLANDER 2 showcases its two main heroes at their most endearingly stupid and it’s such a treat to see Stiller and Wilson play off of one another in attempts to see which one will say the most perplexingly senseless thing next.  Some of their conversations border of the sublimely absurd, such as one uproarious exchange where they debate – in front of Derek’s son, who's a bit more obese than he was expecting – as to whether fat children are inherently social abominations.  The film generates some hearty gags at the expense of Derek’s inane attempts at reconnecting with his long lost child, especially during one hysterical scene where he makes a categorical error in judgment using a selfie stick to take a pic of himself with his kid…while behind the wheel of his car in heavy traffic.  Hansel also has his own share of amusing problems on the home front, seeing as he’s battling the anxiety of becoming a father to multiple children from multiple lovers…one of them being Kiefer Sutherland.  

I heartily laughed several times during ZOOLANDER 2, but there’s simply no denying that the film is filled with too many bridging scenes between its amusing moments that elicited silence at the screening I was attending.  The original film was a lean and trim 90 minutes (the perfect length for this type of perpetually silly material) and was fast and loose with its jokes to the point where there was relatively little dead space anywhere to be found in the film.  ZOOLANDER 2 clocks in at a much longer running time, which really begins to show its self-indulgent bloat early on.  This sequel is certainly bigger in terms of scope than its predecessor, but that doesn’t make it inherently funnier.  Considering that it’s written by the likes of Stiller, Justin Theroux, Josh Hamburg, and Nicholas Stoller, ZOOLANDER 2 feels lazily and haphazardly constructed at the best of times.  It takes an awfully long time for its central story to kick off (which is sad to witness considering the snap and sizzle of the first film’s comedic energy), and when the film strains to find genuine merriment in Derek’s predicaments it shoehorns in some inexplicably bizarre celeb cameos into the mix looking to score would-be knee-slapping guffaws.  An appearance by former Britain’s Got Talent contestant Susan Boyle – during which time she flips the bird at paparazzi – would have proven hysterical 7-8 years ago…but in this film now it feels insipidly out of synch.  

ZOOLANDER 2 does receive a much-needed jolt of unpredictable vivacity when Ferrell’s Mugatu appears.  His lengthy prison sentence (based on crimes committed in the last film) has changed him into a lethally dangerous hipster-killing machine (a very funny, audience placating murder that only Ferrell can somehow make droll).  He’s well teamed with the disappointingly underutilized Wiig, who scores big laughs merely based on her garishly cringe-worthy façade and vocal timbre alone.  ZOOLANDER 2, to its credit, goes for broke in its incredulously logic-defying, but entertainingly zany climax that seemingly throws everything at the screen – including real life fashion design icons, a ritualistic human sacrifice involving ripping Derek’s son’s heart out of his chest, a pool of lava, and, yes, the climatic reveal of Hansel’s biological father in the form of a very famous singer – in hopes of building to a comedic crescendo.  Unfortunately, the stilted build-up towards the film’s beyond-bonkers third act is a mostly lethargic one.  

It’s all too bad.  I love this cast.  I love seeing them – once again – throwing their respective egos out the windows in order to do anything to make us smile (their collective willingness to make absolute fools of themselves in these films is thanklessly commendable).  I love the very idea of the ZOOLANDER universe taking much needed shots at celebrity culture.  And, most importantly, I love Derek Zoolander and Hansel as a charmingly vacuous characters.  But I simply couldn’t bring myself to love ZOOLANDER 2.  For a film a decade-plus in the making, it feels too hastily assembled and, for the most part, it’s simply not funny enough to be a worthy follow-up entry.  Instead of taking the bizarrely outlandish world of Derek Zoolander to new and invigorating satiric heights, it appears that the makers here were just sheepishly writing the franchise’s eugoogly in order to move on to other projects.  

Earth to Stiller: we deserved better than this after a painfully long wait. 

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