Review: Zoolander 2
PLOT: Models Derek Zoolander and Hansel are forced out of seclusion by Interpol when several of the world's most notable pop stars are murdered.
REVIEW: One thing I kept thinking during ZOOLANDER 2 was, "Did it really take them ten years to write that joke?" You have to assume the sequel has been in Ben Stiller's mind for at least that long, considering the original came out in 2001, so it's sort of startling to find the movie doesn't really have anything particularly clever or snappy up its sleeve. Especially glaring when you think about how mainstream the fashion industry is at this moment. (Aren't there about 100 reality shows set in that world?) Now, I know we're talking about a movie featuring characters who are completely idiotic, so the movie of course needs to sink to their level, but at the same time there's plenty of room for fun set pieces and ideas. ZOOLANDER 2 is as far from clever as you can get; it was made by people content to coast along on easy gags and aim for totally predictable targets. It's also a movie that figures when in doubt throw in a celebrity cameo, because those are automatically funny.
It's not a dreadful movie, though, and just because Ben Still and Owen Wilson are so comfortable in these characters' clothes they make for an enjoyable on-screen duo. There are a handful of very amusing bits throughout, although I can't say I ever laughed out loud at anything. (There's a car crash sequence that came pretty close.) It's just so very ho-hum; you keep waiting for it to knock a gag out of the park but such an incident never occurs. I'm not overthinking it, either, because I really enjoy the first ZOOLANDER, and that's a movie filled with dumb, easy jokes. Thing is, there was plenty in that movie that felt genuinely absurd, and the characters were lively. But if there is still freshness to be mined from Stiller's initial concept, he has not found it with ZOOLANDER 2.
The plot picks up some years after the original. Both Derek and Hansel are in hiding, the former because his beloved Center For Kids Who Can't Read Good collapsed almost immediately after it was built (because it was constructed with model glue and popsicle sticks) and killed his wife (Christine Taylor); the latter because his face was horribly injured in that same accident (a tiny scratch on his cheek). But the sudden assassinations of some of the world's biggest pop stars will force these two out of retirement, as a sexy Interpol agent (Penelope Cruz, looking like she's having fun but getting nothing funny to do) brings them in to help solve the case. This leads to a series of random subplots involving Zoolander's estranged son (Cyrus Arnold, who is chubby, hence bears the burden of too many fat jokes), the alleged fountain of youth, a mysterious "chosen one," a Donatella Versace-esque designer (Kristen Wiig) and, of course, Zoolander's old nemesis Mugatu (Will Ferrell), who is unsurprisingly revealed to be behind all the nefarious doings.
For a movie that revels in imbecility, the plot turns out to be too overstuffed by half, as if Stiller and his three co-writers kept throwing story threads against the wall and found that they all stuck. It's not like we care much about the plot anyway, so all these moving parts are unnecessary. It wouldn't be so glaring if these tangents amounted to inspired moments, but ZOOLANDER 2 isn't up to the challenge, and none of what goes on here makes an impression. There's no walk-off or gasoline fight equivalent, just to name two of the more memorable bits of lunacy from the first. There's a running gag about an orgy Hansel is in a relationship with - yes, he's committed to an entire orgy - but even that gets old after a while.
There are celebrity cameos at every turn; a handful are humorous, most out-of-the-blue and gratuitous. Why is Susan Boyle in this movie? Has she been relevant at all in the last five years? Neil Degrasse Tyson shows up for no other reason than he is, as Mugatu would say, so hot right now. (It's not a funny moment, by the way.) The one you've probably heard about the most is Benedict Cumberbatch as an androgynous model named All; it's not as offensive as reported, but it's also barely worth mentioning. Someone likely said, "Wouldn't it be funny to put Benedict Cumberbatch in a wig? Yes, it would be." That's how I assume most of the jokes were written.
Stiller and Wilson give a decent showing, reprising their goofy characters with enthusiasm; Wilson is definitely the more energetic and even if much of his dialogue isn't funny, he manages to wring them most out of them with his airheaded line-readings. Stiller is okay but Derek isn't nearly as enjoyable of a character this time around. Wiig is certainly an interesting screen presence; she's borderline unrecognizable here, and speaks in exaggerated mumbles. The movie's best inclusion is Ferrell's Mugatu, as it significantly receives a boost of fun when he arrives (not until about halfway through, however). Mugatu is once again a pompous psychopath, screaming at every opportunity, but as in the first one his funniest bits are when he can't believe the stupidity on display around him. I know the feeling.
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