Zoolander 2 (2016) / Comedy
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for crude and sexual content, a scene of exaggerated violence, and brief strong language
Running Time: 102 min.
Cast: Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson, Penelope Cruz, Will Ferrell, Cyrus Arnold, Kristen Wiig, Kyle Mooney, Justin Theroux, Nathan Lee Graham, Kiefer Sutherland, Sting
Cameo: Justin Bieber, Billy Zane, Fred Armisen, Benedict Cumberbatch, John Malkovich, Christine Taylor, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Milla Jovovich, Katy Perry, Lenny Kravitz, Anna Wintour, Susan Sarandon, Joe Jonas, Olivia Munn, Macaulay Culkin, Ariana Grande, Demi Lovato, Kim Kardashian, Kate Moss, Kanye West, M.C. Hammer, Tommy Hilfiger, Susan Boyle, Christiane Amanpour, Valentino Garavani, Marc Jacobs, Bruce Springsteen, Lewis Hamilton, Skrillex, Alexander Wang
Director: Ben Stiller
Screenplay: Ben Stiller, Justin Theroux, Nicholas Stoller, John Hamburg
Review published February 13, 2016
Derek Zoolander (Stiller, Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb) is back, the eternally daft and narcissistic male supermodel, now retired and reclusive, who has been persuaded by a 'fashion police' agent working for Interpol, Valentina Valencia (Cruz, The Counselor), to help find the killers of a growing list of celebrities who've struck what appears to be Zoolander's signature "Blue Steel" pose for an Instagram selfie done right before their moment of death. His wife deceased and his child taken away by protective services, Derek has a chance of getting Derek Jr. (Arnold, Hardcore Henry) back by coming out of exile in the mountainous wilderness of northern New Jersey (one of the film's feeble jokes) and assisting with the investigation in Rome, with former rival-turned-friend Hansel (Wilson, No Escape) in tow. The clues lead them back to Zoolander's incarcerated megalomaniacal nemesis Mugatu (Ferrell, Daddy's Home) in a plot involving the search for the Fountain of Youth.
Adding to the voluminous list of comedy sequels that should never have been made comes Zoolander 2, an even more scattershot take than the original. The biggest mistake made among these sequels comes from the constant callbacks to the best moments of the original film, which not only recycles gags you've already seen a number of times in your re-watching of the first entry over the years, but it also reminds you of how funny you remember that movie to be and how little new humor value they've added to the follow-up. Though much of the film is ad-libbed by some heavyweight comedic talent, there are four credited screenwriters attached, as Ben Stiller and his Tropic Thunder collaborator Justin Theroux (Rock of Ages) did rewrites on a script from Nicholas Stoller (Sex Tape), who had already done rewrites on an original script from John Hamburg (Little Fockers), who also shared a credit on the first film.
Zoolander 2 falls under a special category of comedy I've dubbed "Cameo-porn", for its incessant use of celebrity cameos to titillate audiences who merely laugh whenever they see a recognizable face appear on the screen in an inane comedy. As the element of surprise is what most of these cameos have going for them, I won't ruin the fun (though you can see an extensive listing above), but the new comedic actors added to the mix don't really steal the show. I will mention two: Kiefer Sutherland (Pompeii) and Sting (Bee Movie) appear as comedic versions of themselves that wouldn't elicit even a mild chuckle had it been non-celebrities saying their lines. As for more traditional roles, it's fun to see Kristen Wiig (The Martian) in most films, but her talents are limited to a prosthetic nose and mouth and a funny accent. Penelope Cruz is used more for her eye candy than for comedic chops, though she's certainly game, while newcomer Kyle Mooney's ("SNL") millennial hipster character, Don Atari, only has one ironic joke that he delivers a dozen different ways. Will Ferrell's Mugatu doesn't even arrive until the film's second half, and we've already seen him do this character before, so it's not really funny unless you giggle just seeing Ferrell play an outlandish character.
Ben Stiller also directs this film, but ditches the colorful, sunshine glitz of the 2001 feature for a darker, more action-oriented pace and tempo, employing the use of J.J. Abrams favorite cinematographer, Daniel Mindel (The Force Awakens) for a thriller gloss and sheen that doesn't really gibe with the kind of intentionally sophomoric goofiness of the movie's script and characterizations. It sometimes comes off as the umpteenth spoof of spy thrillers mixed with The Da Vinci Code, complete with globe-hopping, European settings, and search for the long-lost mythical artifact, replacing Dan Brown's Holy Grail with the Fountain of Youth. Whereas the first film had a flimsy plot to hang all of its skits around, which left it feeling buoyant and care-free, this one seems to rely on it much more to give the story a shape, rendering it leaden when having to actually deal with it, especially as it lacks much of interest in and of itself. And the story elements don't exactly lend for great comedy; the original never dealt with such things as the death of a spouse, the forced separation with one's child, celebrities riddled with bullets before our eyes, a child on the verge of being slaughtered before his father's eyes in a ritualistic sacrifice, and triggering the 9/11 tragedy yet again by witnessing the destruction of a building in Manhattan in 2001. It's not easy to savor the choice bits with that much bitterness on our palates.
Zoolander was a vapid cotton-candy extended sketch comedy idea that had enough funny moments interspersed to keep it pleasant, even through lulls that missed solid laughs, enough to make it a fan favorite for those just in the mood for stupid silliness to laugh at and pick up their spirits. It's sequel seeks to continue in that tradition, but shows that fifteen years later, the ideas in the film have grown as 'old' and 'lame' in the realm of cinematic comedies as its characters are seen in the realm of the fashion industry. Considering 2001 introduced us to a Derek Zoolander just past the verge of being over the hill, guess how well past his prime he seems a decade and a half later. After suffering through Dumb and Dumber To and Anchorman 2, here's further proof that comedy, like fashion, goes quickly out of style.
©2016 Vince Leo