If actual icons of fashion and modeling are in on the joke, then what is the point of making a second ZOOLANDER film that pokes fun at the industry? This is one of the many questions left unanswered in the 15-years-in-the-making sequel to the 2001 cult Ben Stiller-directed/starring movie about a fading male model determined to prove he still has “It.” This time around, Derek Zoolander (Stiller) and his fellow model pal Hansel (Owen Wilson) are pulled out of their self-imposed reclusion to help Interpol’s Fashion Police division stop…something nefarious happening in the fashion industry and the Fountain of Youth and killing Derek’s fat son. Hell, how the balls am I supposed to keep track of this nonsense?
I’m sure I won’t be the only reviewer to make this point about ZOOLANDER 2, but it leaps out at you with such ferocity that it’s impossible not to notice: it’s truly bizarre how Stiller and company have take the formula that was tried out (unsuccessfully) on ANCHORMAN 2 and use it as the blueprint for this film. Step 1: Take what worked in the first film and recycle it with surface updates. Step 2: Toss many cameos by famous faces on the screen hoping to distract the audience from noticing that your film has very few jokes that land or, you know, a story. Step 3: Go bigger with the effects and destruction because now you’ve got money to play with. Much to my shock and dismay, this three-step program doesn’t do anything to help ZOOLANDER 2 be funny or entertaining.
I certainly don’t mean to imply that the film is void of laughs. There are certainly a handful of intentionally funny moments in the movie that result in big laughs. But what you’ll likely notice more are the long silence gaps, during which crickets will be heard mating, pins will be striking the floor with a deafening clatter, and individual brain cells will scream out as they die painfully.
What hurts more than just about anything else involving ZOOLANDER 2 is the wasted talent involved in the making of it. Along with Stiller and his TROPIC THUNDER co-creator Justin Theroux (who naturally returns as Evil DJ), other writers on this film include Nicholas Stoller (who co-wrote GET HIM TO THE GREEK and THE MUPPETS, as well as directed FORGETTING SARAH MARSHALL and the two NEIGHBORS films) and John Hamburg (I LOVE YOU MAN, ALONG CAME POLLY, and who had a hand in the original ZOOLANDER screenplay). These people know how to write funny. So what went wrong? It seems that all of the carefully crafted jokes gave way to cameos and eye-roll-worthy one-liners.
There’s a backstory that fills in what happened between the last film and today that includes a hugely unfunny bit about how Zoolander’s wife (played by Stiller’s real-life wife Christine Taylor) died in a building collapse, and how their son Derek Jr. (Cyrus Arnold, who has a role in the upcoming HARDCORE HENRY) ended up in an Italian orphanage. Junior has become the target of an international criminal organization, and it’s up to Derek, Hansel and Interpol agent Valentino (Penélope Cruz) to prevent his murder and reunite father and son. Naturally, old favorites like Mugatu (Will Ferrell) return and new conspirators like Alexanya Atoz (Kristen Wiig, clearly doing a physically warped version of Donnatella Versace) pop up. Wiig has her humorous moments (mostly involving her impenetrable accent), while Ferrell just yells and screams and is remarkably unfunny.
The laughs are few and far between, but if you look carefully, you’ll chuckle a few times. Benedict Cumberbatch is on hand as the hot new model All, who embodies male and female traits—all of them. Every second All is on the screen is a gift. There’s also a great running gag about Hansel’s fondness for orgies, members of which are worth taking a closer look at. Kiefer Sutherland probably has some of the best lines in those moments. There’s a girl-fight near the end of the film that is hilarious on many levels. Scattered throughout the rubble are the rare jokes that might hit you the right way, but for the most part, you’ll have time to do your taxes between the funny bits in ZOOLANDER 2.
There’s an extended sequence that serves as the climax of the film that epitomizes what’s wrong with this sequel. There’s a coven of world-famous fashion icons—I won’t name them for fear of spoiling the surprise, but even I knew who they were—gathered to taste of the Fountain of Youth. Each character (playing themselves) is given a joke or two to deliver, and they do so woodenly. And this scene goes back to my original question: if the idiots at the helm of the fashion industry are in on the joke, is it funny any more? ZOOLANDER 2 answers that with a resounding “Nope.”