Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Ben Stiller
Stars: Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson, Penelope Cruz, Will Ferrell, Kristen Wiig, Justin Theroux, Cyrus Arnold, Milla Jovovich, Billy Zane, Kiefer Sutherland, Benedict Cumberbatch, Kyle Mooney, Nathan Lee Graham, Susan Sarandon, Justin Bieber, Christine Taylor, John Malkovich, Katy Perry, Fred Armisen, Sting, Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Anna Wintour, Willie Nelson, Tommy Hilfiger, Marc Jacobs.
This sequel is one of the year’s dumbest comedies, with a capital “D”. It’s been fifteen years since Ben Stiller unleashed his creation of Derek Zoolander, the incredibly stupid, self-involved and innocent male model, on the film going public. On first release, Zoolander was a flop, but in the intervening years it has gained something of a cult following.
Since we last met Derek Zoolander his world has fallen apart with an accident at the Derek Zoolander Center for Kids Who Can’t Read Good and Wanna Learn to Do Other Stuff Good Too that caused the death of his wife and resulted in his son Derek jr being removed into the care of social services. Since then Derek has become a recluse, cutting himself off from society and living in splendid isolation somewhere in upstate New Jersey. But a visit from his friend Billy Zane bearing a strange invitation sees him emerge from his self imposed isolation. He goes to Rome, where he finds himself drawn into a bizarre plot.
Derek is reunited with Hansel (Owen Wilson), his gormless former friend and fellow model who has also spent the past decade or so in isolation in a desert community. But when the pair are drawn back into the world of high fashion they find that they are no longer cutting edge; rather they are considered old school and lame by the new hot kids of fashion such as the hyperactive Don Atari (Kyle Mooney).
And Derek tries to prove that he is again a useful and productive member of society so that he can win back custody of his son, the chubby but intelligent Derek junior (Cyrus Arnold), who for some reason is now the ward of an orphanage in Rome. But Derek junior is also a vital but unwitting cog in an elaborate plot.
The film opens with Justin Beiber being machine-gunned to death, his dying expression recreating one of Zoolander’s patented expressions. He is just the latest in a string of musical celebrities, including Springsteen and Madonna, that have been brutally murdered. Voluptuous agent Valentina Valencia (Penelope Cruz) with Interpol’s Global Fashion Division seeks Derek’s help in trying to uncover the identity of a mysterious assassin who has been killing rock stars.
The nonsensical plot is rather convoluted and busy with lots of subplots, and comes across like a B-grade spy spoof at times. But the uneven pacing from director Stiller means that Zoolander 2 misfires almost from the outset. The original Zoolander was a great parody and scathing satire of the vapid fashion industry itself and its air of self-importance, but this sequel somehow lacks that freshness and sharp humour.
There is a familiarity to much of the material as writers Stiller, Justin Theroux, John Hamburg and Nicholas Stoller merely recycle gags from the first film. But much of it falls flat and is dreadfully unfunny. The best moments come when Zoolander and Hansel come to realise how out of touch they have become. Much of the characterisation, especially of our clueless dumb and dumber heroes, seems unnecessarily mean spirited.
Will Ferrell returns as former fashion mogul turned megavillain Jacobim Mugatu, who has been locked up in the fashion prison for the criminally insane, and he delivers another typically over the top and bizarre performance. Kristen Wiig is virtually unrecognisable as the grotesque and evil fashion designer Alexanya Atoz. Cruz has worked with directors of the calibre of Almodovar and Woody Allen, but she seems a bit bemused by the demands placed on her by the script here.
Zoolander 2 overdoses on the clever celebrity cameos, with everyone from Susan Sarandon, Benedict Cumberbatch (as an androgynous model of all things), Susan Boyle, Kiefer Sutherland, Sting and Willie Nelson through to fashion identities such as Anna Wintour, Tommy Hilfiger and Marc Jacobs all playing themselves, but the joke quickly wears thin and it becomes a bit tiresome after a while.
And cinematographer Daniel Mindel tries to make the most of the beautiful Rome locations, but for the most part the film is visually bland. Leesa Evans’ outrageous costumes are suitably over the top and a highlight of this farrago.
Zoolander 2 is a largely unfunny, messy and unnecessary sequel – but at least it is a bit more enjoyable than the dire Dirty Grandpa, which so far ranks as this year’s bottom of the barrel pick of cinema comedies.