Mark Reviews Movies

Zoolander 2


2 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Ben Stiller

Cast: Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson, Penélope Cruz, Will Ferrell, Kristen Wiig, Cyrus Arnold, Benedict Cumberbatch, Nathan Lee Graham, Christine Taylor, Kyle Mooney, Justin Theroux, Kiefer Sutherland, Sting, Billy Zane, Fred Armisen, Justin Bieber

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for crude and sexual content, a scene of exaggerated violence, and brief strong language)

Running Time: 1:42

Release Date: 2/12/16

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Review by Mark Dujsik | February 11, 2016

Zoolander 2 opens with the excessively bloody murder of a pop star and follows that up with a joke that uses our collective memory of the attacks of September 11, 2001 as a setup. The first is forgivable, because the pop star is in on the joke and it has a good punch line, but the second one is confounding. This is, after all, a sequel to a movie that used the planned assassination of a foreign leader as its central plot point. One would think 15 years might have given the returning screenwriters a bit of time to consider questions of taste. Maybe they have, since they shifted from creating a fictional, potential tragedy for a series of jokes to using misdirection as a means to exploit a real one for a single joke.

It is a single joke, though, so perhaps it doesn't necessitate too much scrutiny. By the time the movie's time-passing montage ends, the joke feels like a distant memory. It's just a momentary, isolated miscalculation in a movie that has more substantial ones.

The screenplay by Justin Theroux, director Ben Stiller, Nicholas Stoller, and John Hamburg also makes up for one of the first movie's most significant flaws. In that one, there was never really a voice of reason. Yes, there was the journalist who saw through Derek Zoolander's (Stiller) inability to understand even the most basic of concepts. She was also the love interest of the story, though, meaning she was forced to remain politely silent on the topic. The only character to actually call him out on his stupidity was the villain, who was just as a ridiculous as the eponymous character. It didn't work, because a fool calling out another fool doesn't change the fact that both are fools.

The sequel gives the vapid, stupid, and narcissistic male model of the title the foil that he desperately needs and deserves. It comes in the form of Derek's son Derek Jr. (Cyrus Arnold), an intelligent teenager who isn't afraid to say that his father is a vapid, stupid, and narcissistic person. The two characters only have a couple of scenes together, but they are easily the movie's funniest. The jokes are focused within these scenes. The dynamic between the two characters reveals both the extent to which Derek is out of touch with normal human behavior and even a little bit of depth to the character (not too much, obviously).

The rest of the movie relies on assembling a random series of jokes with little attempt to string them together. In a way, the screenplay is smart in how it almost refuses to offer us any coherent form of a plot. At the start, Derek, who has become a "hermit crab" in the middle of nowhere in northern New Jersey (amusingly portrayed as an arctic, mountainous wasteland) after the death of his wife Matilda (Christine Taylor), learns that he can try to win back custody of his son. He takes a modeling gig in Rome offered by Alexanya Atoz (Kristen Wiig), a designer who floats and adds unnecessary vowels to words (Perhaps confirming that the plot doesn't matter, Wiig renders herself indecipherable, meaning a lot of expository dialogue is lost).

Joining Derek is his old foe-turned-friend-turned-foe Hansel (Owen Wilson), who was "disfigured" in the accident that killed Derek's wife. Hansel now lives in Malibu (portrayed as a vast desert) with the members of an orgy that apparently went pretty well. Everyone in the group—man, woman, and farm animal—is now pregnant, and Hansel can't handle the pressure of becoming a father. It's an amusing setup, and it's especially funny when his current orgy walks in on Hansel cheating on them with another group (Kiefer Sutherland plays himself as the mouthpiece for the group, wondering how Hansel possibly could love himself if he can't commit to 12 people).

The two models are now relics of a bygone era, with the current world of fashion rallying around hipster apathy, disdain disguised as ironic appreciation for anything retro, and an androgynous model named All (Benedict Cumberbatch). Like its predecessor, the movie doesn't have any satirical insight about its targets. Simply the observation has changed. In the first movie, there jokes were about how phony and dumb the fashion world was, and in the sequel, they're about how phony and weird it is.

From the story of Derek trying to find and regain custody of Derek Jr., the plot shifts to a biblical prophecy involving the descendant of the third person in the Garden of Eden, brings back the villainous Mugatu (Will Ferrell) to engage in a funny battle of wits with Derek, and somehow ends with a battle of steely gazes over a pit of lava. Penélope Cruz plays an Interpol agent who wants to uncover whatever criminal conspiracy is happening here, and like her love-interest predecessor, Cruz' character doesn't have the heart to tell Derek that he's too stupid for her.

That's the biggest problem: This character has a short comic shelf life. We get it, already: He's really dumb. Zoolander 2 doesn't find any significant way to expand or challenge that rudimentary conceit.

Copyright © 2016 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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