Film review: ZOOLANDER NO.2, from ‘Built For Speed’

The original Zoolander was a genuinely funny, inventive comedy that affectionately mocked the bizarre world of high fashion. With its endearingly silly humour, excellent use of music and its unusually striking pop-art visual style, the film melted audience cynicism and ensconced itself in that list of repeat watch DVD’s. It greatest triumph, though, was to create indelible characters who have since become pop-cultural icons including Ben Stiller’s hilariously vain and dim-witted supermodel Derek Zoolander, his ridiculous blonde rival Hansel (Owen Wilson in a superb parody of dubious celebrity spiritualism), the boisterous, politically incorrect modelling agent Maury Ballstein (the brilliant Gerry Stiller) and Will Ferrell’s magnificent send-up of eccentric, temperamental, self-important fashion gurus, Jacobim Mugatu.

With its ridiculous but loveable hero, hilarious villain and distinctive over-the-top production design, Zoolander was effectively Austin Powers for the new millennium. Whereas the Austin Powers films maintained a reasonable standard across two sequels, Zoolander No. 2 is a crushing disappointment.

The overarching problem with Zoolander No.2 is that it is too ridiculous. The first film had some connection with reality – via Christine Taylor’s investigative reporter Mathilde – which allowed it to compare Derek and the fashion world against normality; Mathilde’s incredulity at the crazy fashion world was ours. Zoolander 2 simply heaps absurdity on top of absurdity which means there’s no connection with reality and nothing or at least very little to grab onto.

Apart from a few fleeting moments of comic insight such as the parody of obnoxious crap talking hipsters, this film is depressingly unfunny. The flailing attempts at humour mostly consist of childish dick jokes which would have seemed utterly lame in the first film; gags lazily rehashed from the first Zoolander but given little context and simply trotted out because they’re part of the brand; and product placement masquerading as zeitgeist references. Worst of all, though, is the endless and utterly meaningless parade of celebrity cameos. The first film contained plenty of celebrity cameos but they were appropriate to the settings of fashion shows and awards nights; here celebs are wheeled out for no reason.

The plot of the original Zoolander was pretty silly: to stop the Malaysian Prime Minister raising sweatshop wages, evil fashion mogul Mugatu brainwashed supermodel Derek Zoolander into trying to assassinate him. Compared with the tortuous mess of Zoolander No.2, however, the first film’s plot was a scholarly example of credible and economical story-telling.  In No.2 someone is murdering the world’s pop stars and for entirely unconvincing reasons, Interpol agent Valentina (Penelope Cruz) decides that Derek Zoolander can help them find the culprit. Having gone into exile following a tragic accident involving his family, Derek is eventually lured into the mission and accompanied by Hansel and Valentina, tries to solve the murders and expose a conspiracy involving an old nemesis. With this clumsy set-up, the film, under Ben Stiller’s direction, stumbles about desperately trying to wrench laughs from unconvincing and dreadfully unfunny situations.

With a witless script Stiller tries to fill the gaps where the laughs should have been with headache-inducing graphics and loud, grating action sequences that seem completely out of character with the Zoolander world.  There’s none of the first film’s cartoonish charm or originality and when Will Ferrell’s Mugatu character barely raises a chuckle the film has serious problems. Admittedly, the first movie mined just about all the humour available to a fashion industry satire but it’s not too much to hope that a talent like Stiller could have taken the story in at least a vaguely entertaining new direction.

Stiller and Wilson’s performances fall flat and never generate the humour or dopey good will of the first film. Also, what the hell was a class act like Penelope Cruz doing in this film? Seeing her wade through this trash is depressing. If that’s not bad enough there’s almost no Maury Ballstein.

Exactly what went wrong in the writing phase to produce this disaster is hard to say, perhaps Mugatu brainwashed Ben Stiller and instructed him to assassinate the Zoolander franchise.

Nick’s rating: *1/2.

Genre: Comedy.

Classification: M.

Director(s): Ben Stiller.

Release date: 11thJanuary 2016.

Running time: 102 mins.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast.


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