‘Zoolander 2’ tries too hard to be dumb
Directed by: Ben Stiller
Starring: Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson, Penelope Cruz
“Zoolander 2” (2016) - “Stupid is as stupid does.” - Forrest Gump
“Life will throw everything in your path, and then it will throw the kitchen sink.” - Andre Agassi
Admittedly, I am probably the only movie critic in America who never saw “Zoolander” (2001). I really do not own a good reason for missing it, but I am keenly aware of its basic premise and viewed a portion of the infamous “gas station scene” on YouTube’s WatchMojo.com. That and three dollars will buy me a Grande Americano at Starbucks! Luckily, the opening of “Zoolander 2” provided a montage of news clips from 2001 to 2016 which offered some needed background on our hero and brought the audience up-to-date regarding the last 15 years of Derek Zoolander’s (Ben Stiller) life.
Without revealing many details, CPS estranged Derek from his son, and the spikey-haired, male model decided to go into hiding and become a “hermit crab”. His crab days found an end, however, when fashion icon Alexanya Atoz (Kristen Wiig) calls Derek and his (former) best friend Hansel (Owen Wilson) to the runway, and both models find themselves in the public eye again. Meanwhile, someone has been murdering the world’s biggest popstars, and Interpol agent Valentina (Penelope Cruz) asks Derek to help solve the series of crimes, while he also tries to connect with his son.
The premise makes perfect sense, right? Well, the movie’s threads certainly do not seem the least bit plausible, but that is not the point, as director Ben Stiller throws every ridiculous gag, cameo, running joke, surprise, and the kitchen sink into this sequel. Indeed, the over-the-top narratives are purposely-filled with bizarre visuals, circumstances and conversations, and many of the ideas do spawn belly laughs. For example, a famous Saturday Night Live alum’s face is cinematically placed on an 11-year-old’s body, only for the sole purpose of showing off a weird onscreen image, and later, the film “treats” us to a flashback of Derek’s “Aqua Vitae” commercial which will haunt your soul with its warped Greek mythology and highly sexual references.
Many of these creative flybys do work – and keep a consistent tone - within the construct of the haphazard narrative but become tiresome by the beginning of the film’s third act. The fashion criminal Mugatu (Will Ferrell) makes a return, and while he spouts off nonsensical utterances regarding his evil plan – while surrounded by molten lava - I waited for sharks with lasers – carrying Dr. Evil – to arrive on the frustrating scene. Like the character in the title, the movie is purposely stupid, but some key movie ingredients do not have to be. First of all, the main storyline – concerning Derek Jr. (Cyrus Arnold) - truly does not make any sense, and the script does not really give Arnold anything interesting to do. Cruz’s talents are wasted as well, as she plays her Interpol role straight with no curves with one exception: the story asks her to show off her “curves”. The movie does bathe in a liberal use of cameos, and many of them (which I will not reveal) are effective, but again, by the time the third act rolls around, the last barrage of celebrity appearances just feels like lazy filmmaking.
On the plus-side, the comedic chemistry between Stiller and Wilson is spot-on and several of their combative and friendly sequences are well-written. As spoken by a rock legend (another cameo) in the movie, male models are just like rock stars minus talent and intelligence, and Stiller and Wilson play up their characters’ inherent dense nature to the stratosphere. I certainly laughed in many places in “Zoolander 2” while I also wished for a smarter movie. (2/4 stars)