Before we even start on this, I should point out that I am a fan of the original Zoolander, and think it should be ranked as one of the best comedies since the turn of the century. It’s silly when it needs to be, layered when it doesn’t, and serves as a very accessible critique of the fashion industry. With that out of the way, can we say that Ben Stiller -back as the titular Derek Zoolander as well as taking up the directing reigns again- has managed to capture lightning in a bottle a second time?
The answer is…. well, it’s complicated. As much as I had looked forward to this sequel finally seeing the light of day, I had heard very bad rumours beforehand, and as a result took my seat with a feeling of dread and low expectations, and as a result, I actually did enjoy the movie. Don’t get me wrong, it’s at times pretty ghastly, but with the affection of the original in my heart, and my expectations so low, I have to admit I was entertained. It doesn’t hit as often, and rarely as hard, with its laughs, but I did laugh, and heartily at times.
The basic storyline is that Interpol, more precisely the Fashion Police, led by agent Valentina (Penélope Cruz), are investigating the mysterious death of Pop Stars, illustrated by the opening sequence showing the death of Justin Bieber. All the victims died with the same signature “look” on their faces, and only one man can help them. However our hero, Derek Zoolander (Ben Stiller), has become a hermit after his “Centre for Kids Who Can’t Read Good and Who Wanna Learn to Do Other Stuff Good Too” has tragically fallen down due to being constructed with the same supplies used in the architectural models rather than building materials. His wife Matilda (Christine Taylor) is killed in this tragedy, and from that point he has his son taken from him by Child Services as he’s deemed an unfit father. This is all told in news footage at the start of the film, along with letting us know that Owen Wilson’s character, Hansel, suffered a disfiguring facial injury in that same catastrophe, and so has also taken his leave from the world and is now living out of the limelight. From this point, as it’s a Zoolander film, and all this, when you read it in this format, sounds painfully unfunny, we can be sure that things will only be superficially bad, and that does, thankfully, come to pass.
As the plot unfolds, there is a prophecy, a conspiracy, and more celebrity cameos than you can shake a stick at. Also, as you’ll know if you’ve watched the trailer, Will Ferrell shows up again as the evil Fashion Genius, Mugato, and this is a relief. In all honesty, before he comes back into the story, the film feels a little lost. There are some genuinely great, if somewhat random laughs to be had in the first half of the movie, with a recurring cameo by Keifer Sutherland, and a great turn by Neil deGrasse Tyson stand outs, along with some fairly on-point cutting barbs at hipster culture, but it does feel disjointed, and with Kristen Wiig’s character, Alexanya Atoz, as nothing more than an undecipherable accent and silly outfits, it lacks a decent antagonist to push the story on.
Thankfully, once Mugato comes back into the story, the jokes are no less idiotic, but he carries the story much better, and his incredulity as to just how dumb Derek and Hansel are really does add to the laughs. Hansel finding out who his father is will make many a geek laugh, and Mugato’s reaction when asked about his Pop Star killing plan really did raise a good giggle in the screening I attended.
As for the general mechanics of the movie, all in all, the performances are all on a scale of reasonable to pretty good. The direction is fairly swift, and lets the story move forward in a pretty decent fashion, although it is a little dark at points, the curse of filming at night and in tunnels, however that is about the worst that can be said about it.
If we look a bit closer I think this is a film that is about 10 years too late in coming out. People loved the first film, and in my opinion, rightly so, but this film, for all its attempts to hit the cultural zeitgeist again, just doesn’t feel as relevant. This is probably because of the need to have the characters that we enjoyed from the first film in this second outing. The almost neon fashionistas that Mugato and Alexanya Atoz represent aren’t there to the same extent these days, and as much fun as it is when the film takes shots at the hipster culture that has replaced them, there isn’t enough of this, and trying to have both together feels like somewhat forced.
So, can I, in all honesty, and with a clear conscience, recommend you go see this movie? Well, as I said earlier, it’s complicated. If you hated the first film, move on, there is nothing to see here, and you will hate every minute of that has been committed to celluloid. If you loved the first film, even then, I’d set your expectations low. Pretend I rated this as if I was someone that hated the first film, something like a 1 or 2 out of 10, then go watch it, and I think you’ll think it was a fairly watchable 6 out of 10. So in an effort to bridge those two extremes, I’ll have to go with a 4.5/10. You will laugh, you will probably be slightly embarrassed that you did, but there will be a few moments that you’ll take out of the cinema, replay in your head, and have a quiet chuckle to yourself.