Zoolander 2 (2016)

Long time no Z.

Once famous models and rivals-turned-friends, Derek Zoolander (Ben Stiller) and Hansel McDonald (Owen Wilson), abandon the civilized world for fifteen years after Zoolander’s ill-conceived Center for Kids Who Can’t Read Good and Who Wanna Learn to Do Other Stuff Good Too collapses, scarring Hansel’s face and killing Derek’s wife Matilda (Christine Taylor) in the process. The aftermath also sees Derek lose his son Derek Jr. to child protection services and become a recluse known as ‘Erek.’

Now, after some of ‘the world’s most beautiful people’ are mysteriously murdered, found with a distinctive facial ‘look’ as their final Instagram photo, Interpol agent Melanie Valentina (Penélope Cruz) attempts to track the once ‘hip’ Zoolander down for help. In the meantime, Derek and Hansel are lured out of their solitude by actor Billy Zane, yes, Billy Zane, with an invitation to meet the latest fashion icon and general weirdo Alexanya Atoz (Kristen Wiig). Attempting to rediscover their place in fashion, Derek seeks to reclaim his now teenaged son (Cyrus Arnold), while Hansel has an identity crisis and an old enemy, Jacobim Mugatu (Will Ferrell), awaits a new opportunity to taunt Derek from prison.

Three's company. Like, really, really ridiculously good company.
Three’s company. Like, really, really ridiculously good company.

‘Disappointing’ is the word that comes to mind when reflecting on co-writer/director/star Ben Stiller’s long-rumored sequel to his 2001 comedy.

Oddly enough, the original Zoolander wasn’t terribly well received by critics on release and only had a modest box office return, but it was the home video market that turned it into a cult hit, with strong DVD sales and eventually TV replays ensuring it got its shot at pop culture fame in the end. Will this happen with the sequel? Not bloody likely.

There’s no way any real Zoolander fanatic could resist checking this entry out and it’s that audience that will keep this ‘No. 2’ from looking like that other kind of ‘No. 2’ before it’s eventually flushed out of theaters. When all is cleared though, this satire doesn’t seem to have much life in it.

As a director, Ben Stiller has demonstrated himself as pretty capable — Tropic Thunder (2008) delivered a solid shot of R-rated silliness at a time when the appetite was high for such offerings, and while not quite the masterpiece it wanted to be, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013) mostly got by with an appropriate sense of warmth and discovery.

As an actor, outside of a few comedy sketches, Stiller has shown less and less interest in his goofy comic side and more and more towards playing ‘the straight guy’ against which comic situations occur — the Meet The Parents series (2000 – 2010) being one such example. Personally, I’ve found this a shame, as Stiller can be a lot of fun when he goes full goofball — see his narcissistic antagonist in Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story (2004).

'I asked for a Smart Phone ... not a Small Phone!'
‘I asked for a Smart Phone … not a Small Phone!’

I mention this filmography history because, it really feels as though Stiller himself is the very reason as to why Zoolander 2 doesn’t quite lift off, the 50-year-old actor having long left such frivolous things behind, at least when it’s come to his features (that’s feature films, not his facial features). While clearly made for the fans, this is a sequel that’s a decade and a half too late and doesn’t quite feel as though it was worth the wait.

There are throwbacks that are genuinely outrageous; the return of Wham!’s ‘Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go’ should have fans cackling in recollecting the ‘Orange Mocha Frappuccinos’ car drive in the original — the subsequent payoff of the new sequence being my personal highlight, keeping me in tears of laughter long after it had ended. There are also plenty of celebrity cameos — Justin Bieber takes an over-the-top shooting in the prologue, while Kiefer Sutherland from television’s 24 (2001), has a complicated relationship with Hansel. Naturally, there are plenty of other walk-on parts that are best left to be discovered in the feature.

Things get a little forgettable with the newer characters — despite a solid effort to parody Lady Gaga, Kristen Wiig, The Martian (2015), doesn’t get to do much in her role as she, and pretty much all the women in this film, including the really, really, ridiculously good-looking Penélope Cruz, The Counselor (2013), are relegated to bland support. I will say that Kyle Mooney, The Party Is Over (2015), is hands down the highlight as modern hipster-fashion icon Don Atari — his often nonsensical slang and swagger bringing continual laughs, especially in his introduction.

Caught in the cross-wires of love and fashion
Caught in the cross-wires of love and fashion

For a flick centered around ‘looks’ and fashion, special mention naturally goes to the colorful visual team, namely costume designer Leesa Evans, Trainwreck (2015), and the ever-in-demand master stylist cinematographer Dan Mindel, Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015) — clearly, with plenty of kooky bright opportunities, they’ve had a blast working on this project.

Look, you most likely already know whether you’re going to see this one or not, so nothing I state will dissuade you and sure enough, while a bit on the ambitiously long side, Zoolander 2 is a watchable movie if you enjoyed the first. I certainly didn’t hate it, but I can’t say that this sequel was more than just an average effort.

Proceed with caution.

2.5 / 5 – Alright

Reviewed by Steve Ramsie

Zoolander 2 is released through Paramount Pictures Australia