Fifteen years later, Ben Stiller’s satire on the fashion industry comes back as a satire on itself, with no new ideas but lots of new celebrity cameos
Starring: Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson, Penelope Cruz
Directed by: Ben Stiller
Running time: 100 minutes
By Jay Stone
The 2001 movie Zoolander was a satire about the fashion industry that threw empty-headed male models — men so vacant they gave names like “Blue Steel” or “Magnum” to the chisel-cheeked pouts they aimed towards the camera or the crowd — into an assassination thriller. It sure took the steam out of male models, empty-headed or not, an ambition akin to shooting fish on a runway.
Now, a svelte 15 years later, comes Zoolander 2, which appears to be a satire about Zoolander. It has the same stars, the same director, and the same delusions about how funny it is to expose the shallowness of the enterprise, although the enterprise in this case is as much itself as it is the fashion industry.
What it has in place of a plot is a host of star cameos, whose images — or, in some cases, whose very names — are used as a shortcut to the sure-fire hilarity of self-reference. In the opening sequence, for instance, someone shoots Justin Bieber (playing himself), who takes a selfie of his dying image and posts it on Instagram. Thus the film has its celebrity and eats him too.
A host of such assassinations of rock stars result in the reappearance of Derek Zoolander (Ben Stiller, who also returns as director and co-writer), a former model now in hiding under the assumed name of Eric Twolander. Derek became a recluse when the building housing his charitable organization — The Derek Zoolander Center for Kids Who Can’t Read Good and Who Wanna Learn to Do Other Stuff Good Too (we’ll pause here for the guffaws of appreciation) — collapses and kills his wife.
Derek is asked to appear at an Italian show with another retired model, his old rival Hansel (Owen Wilson, an actor who is basically a carrying case for adenoids) and meet up with the new fashion world. It’s a place of wrinkled T-shirts, messy hair, and a black-hearted nostalgia for the 2000s, when Derek and Hansel — now known as Old and Lame — once ruled the roost. They’re so passé that their appearance is greeted with buckets of prune juice.
Derek and Hansel are installed in Rome’s Palazzo de Kaka, a hotel made of recycled human waste and a notion that, thankfully, is never developed into anything. “I miss not knowing things with you,” Derek says in case we miss his essential vacuity. Together with Valentina (Penelope Cruz, being an exceptionally good sport), an officer with Interpol’s fashion police, they set off to find out who’s killing the musicians and also to help Derek find his lost son. Fatherhood is one of the themes of Zoolander 2, just like Star Wars but, like, more ironical.
It unfolds like some random James Bond takeoff, and with no comic discipline. Stiller the director keeps throwing famous names up on the screen — Keifer Sutherland, Susan Sarandon, Susan Boyle (!) — and hoping that their sheer incongruity amounts to something funny. Some of them have a kind of skewed genius, like Kristien Wiig’s Alexanya Atoz, a designer who speaks with a tortured European accent (“You two vere amousing”); others have to be introduced by name (why, if it isn’t Neil deGrasse Tyson.)
Gags from the first film are recycled, like Derek’s magical fashion pose that can repel weapons. Will Ferrell pops up again as Mogatu, the villain, who is held in fashion prison along with other blackguards such as MC Hammer and his MC Hammer pants. It’s another easy target, of course, but Zoolander 2 doesn’t mind because look: here comes Sting, accompanied by a few chords from Message in a Bottle. Get it?
Photo: Owen Wilson, Ben Stiller, Penelope Cruz in Zoolander 2