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Zoolander 2
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by Peter Sobczynski

1 stars

Although it was not a particularly huge success in theaters when it opened in 2001 (perhaps due in small part to opening only a couple of weeks after 9/11), Ben Stiller’s spoofy comedy “Zoolander” went on to become a big hit on home video and eventually developed a large and fervent fan following that supposedly includes the legendary Terrence Malick amongst its ranks. To be honest, I have never actually met any of these people or have ever seen any tangible proof of their love of that excessively and not-especially-amusingly dumb film but I am at least willing to consider the possibility that they do exist. (If Mr. Malick would like to sit down and talk about his alleged love of the film, I would be more than willing to arrange it.) That said, it is difficult to believe that even those people will be especially amused by “Zoolander 2,” a who-asked-for-it? sequel that takes the original’s one-joke premise—Derek Zoolander (Stiller),the world’s dumbest male model, inexplicably stumbles off the catwalk and into the world of international espionage—and repeats it in ways that are bigger, louder and dumber but not noticeably funnier. The end result is a film that does roughly for comedy what that pair of fuchsia jeans I owned in high school did for fashion—absolutely nothing.

The film begins with a seemingly endless sequence in which none other than Jason Bieber is chased through the streets by unknown assailants before being killed in a Peckinpah-style hail of bullets—a scene that might have been amusing if a.) it had been done a few years ago when people actually cared about Bieber b.) it hadn’t already been spoiled in all of the incessant commercials and trailers over the last couple of months and c.) had contained an actual laugh or two. As it turns out, there has been a rash of pop stars that have recently met untimely deaths and they all share one thing in common—just before dying, they all posted selfies in which they seem to be replicating Zoolander’s famous Blue Steel look. This attracts the attention of Valentina Valencia (Penelope Cruz), a Rome-based agent with Interpol’s Global Fashion Division, but is she stymied because Zealander has been missing for years, following a freak accident that caused him to lose his wife (Christine Taylor) and custody of their son, Derek Jr., and is living in exile in the wilds of northern New Jersey.

This exile is ended by the arrival of Billy Zane himself (played by Billy Zane himself) , who turns up on the doorsteps of both Zoolander and estranged former friend/fellow model Hansel (Owen Wilson), who was cruelly disfigured in the same accident and who now spends his days in the wilds of Malibu partaking in round-the-clock pansexual orgies with invitations to go to Rome to participate in a fashion show in Rome being thrown by a hideous millennial designer (Kyle Mooney). This doesn’t quite work but both Zoolander and Hansel are invited to participate in an upcoming event held by fashion deity Alexanya Atoz (Kristen Wiig, looking like she underwent the age reduction treatment in “Brazil). Eventually, Valentina gets in contact with the two and enlists them to help her solve who is killing off the world’s top pop stars. Somehow, this also involves the aforementioned Derek Jr. (Cyrus Arnold), who is now a chunky weirdo who, oddly enough, resides in an orphanage right there in Rome and eventually leads Zoolander to his nemesis, the monstrous Mugatu (Will Ferrell), whose plans for world domination are as diabolical and diabolically dopey as ever.

In his best projects to date as a director—the still-underrated “The Cable Guy” and “Tropic Thunder,” not to mention the late, great “The Ben Stiller Show”—Stiller has demonstrated both a cheerful willingness to skewer the more obnoxious and ridiculous aspects of contemporary popular culture and an ability to understand what it is about those aspects that resonate so strongly with audiences, no matter how silly they might be. The trouble with “Zoolander 2”—and with the original as well—is that the satirical content is nearly nonexistent and what little there is is of the exceptionally toothless variety. Making fun of the pretensions of the fashion industry might have been amusing 20 years ago, when the Zoolander character first appeared in a skit at the VH1 Fashion Awards, but the industry has changed so much in the ensuing two decades that simply offering more bits in which Zoolander says or does something stupid or strikes a goofy-looking pose just seems lazy more than anything else and leaves a lot of potentially funny material on the table. (Imagine Zoolander trying to maintain the kind of social media profile that seems to be generating the new wave of supermodels such as Kate Upton and Cara Delevingne.) Instead, Stiller and co-writers Justin Theroux, John Hamburg and Nicholas Stoller seems more interested in the various twists and turns of the plot, which would be all right if it weren’t the cobbled-together mess presented here—in terms of coherence, it makes the original “Casino Royale” look like the Daniel Craig “Casino Royale” by comparison.

The other comedic concept driving “Zoolander 2” is the notion of bringing in an array of stars to pop up in cameo roles—hardly a scene goes by without at least one celebrity dropping in and most of them have more than one. (The two orgy groups that Hansel organizes alone contain enough famous faces (and only that, alas, but you do get to see Ariana Grande sporting a ball gag.) Under the right circumstances and with the right material, a slew of cameo appearances can be entertaining but the problem here is that, with few exceptions, all they do is prove that Ben Stiller could get a load of actors, singers and models to show up for his film without actually giving them anything to do. Of course, the principals don’t get much of anything to do either—Stiller and Wilson repeat their clueless schtick from the first film with even fewer rewards, Ferrell gets one funny scene towards the end but otherwise comes across as though he is impersonating himself and Wiig essentially plays Maya Rudolph playing Donatella Versace. The most shocking waste of talent comes from how the movie utilizes—or doesn’t—Penelope Cruz. Sure, she is an Oscar-winning actress and more than capable of doing comedy but here, she is given virtually nothing to do and when the jokes do come here way, they almost entirely revolve around her always-inspiring cleavage. Her biggest scene, in fact, comes when she strips down to a bathing and orders Zoolander to grab on to her breasts while she swims the two of them back to Rome (don’t ask). Watching this bit, you get the sense that the only reason that this film was made and the tens of millions required to produce it were spent was so that Ben Stiller could get a chance to grope Penelope Cruz. Nice work if you can get it but no one is really getting anything out of that other than Stiller himself. (Certainly not Cruz, who looks as though she is praying for Pedro Almodovar or Woody Allen to free her from this pain.)

There are a few funny moments here and there in “Zoolander 2”—Benedict Cumberbatch turns up as a sexually ambiguous model and while the jokes aren’t much, he certainly commits to them in a way that makes them work and a couple of the more absurd one-liners do hit their marks—but in between those intermittent laughs are long stretches of cinematic flop-sweat in which everyone just kind of flails about while dressed in absurd outfits at such great length that the whole thing feels endless despite clocking in at barely over 90 minutes. The whole thing is tired and silly and ridiculously out of step from a comedic perspective and Stiller appears to be as clueless to that inescapable fact as his character is rot practically everything else. Watching it is like being trapped in an especially dingy outlet store for 90 minutes with not a single bargain to be had anywhere.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=28753&reviewer=389
originally posted: 02/11/16 15:08:39
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  12-Feb-2016 (PG-13)
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