By John Esther | February 13, 2016
Director: Ben Stiller
Writers: Justin Theroux, Ben Stiller, Nicholas Stoller, John Hamburg, Drake Sather
Starring: Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson, Will Ferrell, Penélope Cruz, Kristen Wiig, Sting, Fred Armisen, Christine Taylor, Cyrus Arnold, Kyle Mooney, Kanye West, Kim Kardashian, Beck Bennett, Nathan Lee Graham, Milla Jovovich, Benedict Cumberbatch, Lewis Hamilton
For some magical movie reason the filmmakers behind the 2001 movie, Zoolander, have decided to reunite years later to make a sequel that manages, not surprisingly, to be worse than its awfully unfunny predecessor.
A magical movie reason called money, from the opening scene audiences will know exactly what to expect in Zoolander 2: a noisy, often nonsensical, unfunny enterprise with lots and lots of cameos from some of the culture industry’s most recognized faces.
Looking like a lame music video, two daredevil motorcyclists are chasing singer-songwriter and non-actor Justin Bieber through the streets. (Fortunately the notoriously “dangerous” driver is on foot.) After getting gunned down in a hail of bullets a la Sonny Corleone (James Caan) in The Godfather, Bieber strikes a few selfie poses, picks the right one and then ends it out before his final breath.
It is a good thing none of those hundreds of bullets fired into Bieber ever struck one of the most recognizable faces in the world. Otherwise, it would have been very difficult for J-Beebs to send his facial message to the likes of Valentina Valencia (Penélope Cruz), leading agent of Interpol’s Fashion Division.
Stuck and struck on his look, because facial expressions are always leads to crimes, Valentina and her coworkers try to decode the 21-year-old’s visage. Unfortunately, they and all that facial recognition software are unable to decipher the last message from the author of Just Getting Started.
Of course, there is only person who can decode “the look”: Derek Zoolander (co-writer and director Ben Stiller). Once the most famous model of his time, Derek has been a “hermit crab” living in exile since Child Protection Services took his son away and his wife (Christine Taylor) died in a freak accident at The Derek Zoolander Center for Kids Who Can’t Read Good.
On the other side of the USA, Derek’s nemesis-turned-sidekick Hansel (Owen Wilson) has been on his own self-imposed exile as well. Hansel’s exile includes an orgy of animals, women and men, including Kiefer Sutherland playing himself. When Hansel finds out he has impregnated all 11 of his cohorts, he runs off to Europe where he will run into Derek, who is now trying to retrieve his long lost son. (Yes, Derek may be super rich and able to hire the best lawyer in the world to get his son back, but he is just so dumb he never thought of that. And nobody thought of making a suggestion to that effect. You know, like correcting his grammar regarding the naming of the center. Can someone say, “ironically,” too?)
After some more narrative noise and inane humor, the narrative finally reveals itself as something about the quest for ageless beauty — dating back to Adam & Eve & Steve.
However, this fashion-façade of a film is about as concerned with a LGBTQA theme as it is about garment sweat shops (and child labor), the environmental devastation as a result of the clothing industry (reportedly the second dirtiest in the world), model work-related eating disorders and sexual exploitation (sex trade, too), or the psychological and political destruction brought upon by the fashion industry’s manufacturing of desire to the successful point that consumers make irrational choices for the things they do not need. Perhaps, instead of cameos ad nauseam, such concerns will show up in Zoolander 3? (Insert silly stare here.)
Since the film wants to say nothing about such problems surrounding fashion and modeling — indeed a few of its leaders show up for cameos (to assure us that narcissism is there, but safe) — it could at least be funny on some rudimentary, happy-go-lucky level, but it is not. Thanks to a few supporting roles, notably Will Ferrell revamping his role as the nefarious Mugatu, a barely recognizable Kirsten Wiig as fashion matron Alexanya Atoz, a very good Cyrus Arnold and Derek Zoolander Jr. and the aforementioned Sutherland, the movie manages to put a few frowns upside down, but that is about it.
Obviously, humor is subjective and, for what it is worth, I generally enjoyed Stiller’s film, Tropic Thunder. A funny poke at the banality of Hollywood’s war moving making scene, the 2008 film could make general audiences laugh while exposing a few truths about propaganda, American vulgarity and gullibility, and the unfortunate economic limitations of the poor in distant lands.
Here in Zoolander 2, most of the jokes are duds. For a movie with relentless attempted gags, you could barely hear a guffaw in the audience. There is no satire or farce, critical consciousness or comical insights into an entity with considerable control over the lives of Americans. The writing and the willingness to expose what goes behind the model pose is just not there (like Zoolander’s braininess), despite all the talent — cast or cameo — present in Zoolander 2.