Film Review – Zoolander 2
When it comes to goofy comedies, there’s one question that stands above all: is it funny? You can’t look at one with the same criteria you would a hard-hitting drama. When you come across a comedy that isn’t taking itself seriously, the most you can ask for is that it makes you laugh. Was that the case for me while watching Zoolander 2 (2016)? Eh, not really.
It’s been fifteen years since Ben Stiller directed and starred in the story of a “really really ridiculously good looking” male supermodel by the name of Derek Zoolander. Say what you will about that first film, but part of the reason it achieved a minor cult following was Stiller’s ability to lampoon the absurdity of its material. He poked fun at the fashion industry and the celebrity mystique of its models. This might be digging too deeply in what was essentially a forgettable romp, but at least Stiller had material to play with.
The same can’t be said about the sequel. Here we have Stiller (with a host of writing partners) returning with nothing new or interesting to say. This is a major step backwards in Stiller’s development as a filmmaker. He nearly perfected this model already with the much better Tropic Thunder (2008). Whether he did it for nostalgic reasons or by outside influence, going back to this character feels like a weak attempt at capturing old glory. In other words, Ben Stiller is better than this.
Because the production rested heavily on the original, the sequel contains a lot of callbacks and references to similar jokes and story beats. You know how poor the writing is when many of the punch lines are repeated. The only true innovation is that this is now the era of social media, which gives us the opportunity to see celebrities hopping on Twitter and Instagram to show their version of “Blue Steel” (Zoolander’s stupid pouty face that makes up about forty percent of the comedy).
The plot is so thinly constructed that it’s almost an afterthought. Years after Zoolander and his once-nemesis-now-friend Hansel (Owen Wilson) have receded from the fashion industry, they’re called on to solve a major international crisis. Some mysterious organization has been killing the world’s most beautiful people. With the help of Interpol agent Valentina (Penelope Cruz) Zoolander and Hansel must overcome the odds – their own stupidity – to solve the mystery and restore order to fashion. There’s also a secondary thread with Zoolander’s son (Cyrus Arnold), but that story is so undercooked that it’s not worth getting into.
Stiller and his team made the crucial sin of not making this funny enough to warrant its existence. The jokes have no kick, and I sense they knew this because they chose to repeat many of them over and over again. They took the “quantity over quality” approach to comedy, as though saying something repeatedly would somehow make it funny. One recurring joke deals with Hansel’s “relationships” amongst a group orgy. This was humorous at first, but after the third or fourth iteration it became obnoxious. There were a few instances where I chuckled, mostly from the charisma of the performers rising above the writing. Kristen Wiig steals the show as Alexanya Atoz, an over the top designer whose Italian accent is so exaggerated that we can never quite tell what she’s saying. She’s the lone bright spot in a swirl of drab, half-hearted attempts at humor.
I felt bad for Penelope Cruz. She’s a fine actress, an Oscar winner, but in this role exists only to objectify her stunning beauty. Valentina is supposed to be a bad ass, but is merely eye candy for other characters (and the audience). Is it any surprise that Valentina was once a swimsuit model? How convenient. Stiller has her dressed in skin-tight leather, and when opportunity calls, even less. She doesn’t provide anything in terms of plot or character. Valentina is a half-baked Bond girl, something you’d see in Austin Powers. In one scene, Valentina has Zoolander grab her breasts as a floatation device, and in another wrestles with a female character to the delight of on looking males. Sure, this is only supposed to be fluff and not taken seriously, but it’s disheartening to see such outdated jokes still present in 2016.
The absolute worst thing about Zoolander 2 are the endless cameos. Every other scene has some random celebrity pop in and then disappear. From Benedict Cumberbatch, to Katy Perry, and even Neil DeGrasse Tyson, the cameos hurtle out of the screen relentlessly. Unfortunately, Stiller does nothing with them. Just because you have famous people on screen doesn’t make it funny or memorable. It’s as pointless and stupid as the ones you’d see in Scary Movie 5 (2013) or Epic Movie (2007). The fact I made those comparisons should hint toward the kind of flick this is.
Zoolander 2 is about as significant as the gum under your shoe. It’s lifeless, and lacks whatever wit there was in the first entry. Ben Stiller is a talented individual, and I’m sure he’ll move on from this. I just hope he does it quickly.