Director: Ben Stiller
Cast: Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson, Christine Taylor, Will Ferrell, Jerry Stiller, Milla Jovovich
MPAA Rating: (for sexual content and drug references)
Running Time: 1:30
Release Date: 9/28/01
Review by Mark Dujsik
Itís been proven time and again that, unless thereís something distinguishable behind it, the story of a man and his stupidity cannot survive the average length of a feature film. Zoolander supports this theory, although it is with a certain amount of sorrow that I admit the fact. For the first twenty minutes, Zoolander is hysterically funny. Itís an on-target satire of the modeling industry and a very funny look into the personal life of one of those models. Then something unfortunate happens. The movie loses its focus, a plot kicks in, and the whole thing falls on its face.
Derek Zoolander (Ben Stiller) is the top model in the industry. Heís won the Model of the Year Award three years in a row, but this year the award goes to the newcomer Hansel (Owen Wilson). After the death of his friends in a tragic gasoline fight accident (by far the funniest sequence, which should tell you something both about the humor in the movie and my own sense of humor), Derek decides to retire from modeling. Soon after, the megalomaniac fashion designer Mugatu (Will Ferrell) hires Derek to be the exclusive model for his new line of clothing based on the fashions of the homeless. As I implied in my character description, Mugatu has bigger plans for Derekónamely to assassinate the Prime Minister of Malaysia whose laws against child labor hamper the production of the Mugatu line.
Itís around this point that the movie begins its downward spiral. The plot in comedies such as Zoolander almost always detracts from the humor, and itís not just the darker subject matter in this case. Usually what happens is that there is too much time spent on establishing or fleshing out the story, and the movie suffers from a lack of laughs during this time-frame. There isnít much time wasted on such a pursuit in this case, but it is nearly impossible to ignore the darker undertones of the plot and consider whether or not they are appropriate. It would be as difficult as getting away with calling the assassination of a foreign leader "undertones" to the story. See? You just canít do it.
The most blatant and most damaging aspect to this comedy, though, is its apparent lack of ideas. Zoolander himself is a one-joke deal. Heís stupid. He mispronounces words, canít spell, has no common sense, etc., etc. Once the stupid joke loses its appeal (and it quickly does), there is nothing available to take its place. So, like all material such as this, the joke grows repetitive, and we wait in unfulfilled anticipation for something new to come along. The movie tries a few times, but to little avail. One example is Hansel. Although he should be part of the joke, his existence seems unnecessary, and any promise he holds is not exploited.
The cast is, for the most part, the movieís saving grace. Stiller as Derek keeps the joke from becoming annoying, and that is a small accomplishment in itself. Wilson is wasted completely, as I implied in my description of his character. Here is an actor of great comedic promise given nothing to work with, and itís a sad sight. Jerry Stiller plays Derekís manager, and he gets in a few good lines, especially a conversation he has on the phone with his wife near the end of the movie. Watching Zoolander, I finally realized why I donít find Will Ferrell all that amusing. He never seems involved in the material. His tone of voice remains detached, as though showing up to the set is funny enough. Thereís a scene here where Derek is upset by the size of a reading institute for children, and Ferrell plays the scene as a joker when he should play the straightman. Itís these little details that really impede his humor.
Derek Zoolander was a character created for appearances in small doses, and he will do well to stay that way. The material has promise, and itís unfortunately wasted on easy, inconsistent, or unexplainable jokes. Plainly speaking, you can tell a movie isnít that good when the most inoffensive mistake it makes is mocking the assassination of a foreign leader.
Copyright © 2001 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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