It’s been nearly 15 years since male supermodel Derek Zoolander strutted down the runway and captivated us with his alluring and breathtaking signature look: Magnum. Released just after the attacks on September 11th, Zoolander remains a strange product of its time, taking jabs at the craziness of the vacuous fashion industry. It’s become a favorite cult classic over the years, its success owing as much to its wacky premise and likable characters. It almost seems anachronistic to even think such a comedic time capsule needed a sequel.
Nevertheless, Ben Stiller returns to both direct and star in Zoolander 2 as the titular Derek Zoolander, superstar male model and more fragile and emotional than ever, but just as dumb as always. Despite being ridiculously good-looking, Derek must cope with a flurry of emotions and setbacks that take a grip on his feeble mind.
The film catches us up as to what’s happened during the last fifteen years between the original, revealing the death of Matilda (Christine Taylor) after The Derek Zoolander Center For Kids Who Can’t Read Good and Want to Learn To do Other Stuff Too collapses on her – and bestie Hansel. Hans’ (Owen Wilson) face becomes “disfigured” in the accident, forcing him to hide in “the deserts of Malibu” with no desire to see Derek ever again.
Did I mention that Zoolander is also a father? Derek Jr. (Cyrus Arnold), a plump and smart kid with no sense of style; a complete antithesis to Derek. Of course, he’s not up to the job, and his problems only get worse after he manages to lose Derek Jr., forcing him to become a “hermit crab” (his term) in a blizzardy cabin n the frigid extremes of Northern New Jersey.
It takes the likes of Billy Zane with an invitation to kooky and eccentric Alexanya Atoz’s (Kristen Wiig) fashion show in Rome to coax the retired model back to the spotlight. On the other side of things Hans is also pulled away – via the same request – from the safety of his sex commune hideaway where he’s managed to impregnate everyone, including Kiefer Sutherland (playing himself). It just so happens that Derek Jr. is in Rome and his reluctant return to modeling is also an opportunity for Derek to rekindle his relationship with his estranged son.
Zoolander 2’s story is all over the place, focusing on very little, jumping from one character’s subplot to the next with erratic disconnect; simply put, it’s a jumbled mess. What starts off as a film about the world’s biggest pop stars being killed off – including a gunned down Justin Bieber in the prologue – soon gets lost and buried by the film’s various subplots.
The sheer stupidity of Zoolander 2 is more a product of the scriptwriting than the characters themselves. What worked so well in the first Zoolander were the characters’ utter cluelessness and satirical jab at the fashion industry that justified the movie’s comedy and made for comical scenarios. Here the comedy stems from bad writing team of Stiller, Justin Theroux (Evil DJ), Nicholas Stoller, and John Hamburg.
There’s simply too many stories and characters and much to its own hindrance, and the movie wants to focus on all of them. We’re introduced to INTERPOL Fashion Police Officer Valentina (Penelope Cruz), but she feels less an authority trying to solve the mystery of dead musicians and more Zoolander’s next love interest. Will Ferrell reprises his role as the strangely coiffured super-villain Mugatu, who ”craftily” eludes Derek and escapes from a high-security prison. There are too many cameos to list but Katy Perry, Ariana Grande, Sting, and Benedict Cumberbatch make appearances, the latter in a cringe-worthy performance.
If Zoolander 2 accomplished anything it was shaming actors I regularly enjoy. Besides the embarrassing performances from Wiig and Cumberbatch, Fred Armisen (Portlandia) has a bizarre cameo as an abysmal CGI version of himself as an 11-year old boy.
Buried under the many awkward scenes and gratuitous cameos in Zoolander 2 are a few genuinely funny jokes that muster a few laughs. Those fleeting moments only serve to remind us of Zoolander and Hans’ clueless shenanigans and feel more in line with what made the original a real classic and proper thrashing of the inanity of the fashion industry. But these brief chuckles can’t save the rest of the movie as Zoolander 2 is mostly tone-deaf, too often lost in its own stupidity.