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ZOOLANDER 2 Movie Review – Desperately, Aggressively Unfunny WOT (Waste of Time)

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When Ben Stiller decided – and the Powers-That-Be, against their collective best interest, agreed – to make a totally unnecessary, completely redundant sequel to the 2001 semi-cult hit, Zoolander, no on was clamoring to see, hear, or otherwise experience, he forgot to add a crucial ingredient: Bring the funny and/or hilarity and bring the funny and/or hilarity consistently and repeatedly. Somehow, Stiller assumed that bringing back the ridiculously handsome, IQ-challenged title character et al., minus anything new, novel, or even remotely original, would be more than enough to equal its semi-illustrious predecessor in terms of crowd-pleasing value. It wasn’t. There’s more than a hint, more than a whiff of desperation emanating from Zoolander 2, a stink (rotting corpse?) that doesn’t disappear or dissipate with time.

It’s not all bad, though, at least not at first. Zoolander 2 opens with a foot chase straight out of a sub-James Bond imitation (because it’s that and less) with machine-gun-wielding motorcyclists pursuing an acrobatic, hooded figure through the desolate streets of Rome. That hooded figure turns out to be Justin Bieber (or a reasonable facsimile). He dies in a hail of bullets, but not before posting one last selfie to the Internet. It’s all meant to be a joke. Bieber has descended into the active loathing by non-fans that befalls every pop celebrity eventually and he – and we – gets a self-congratulatory laugh at his own expense (if you can laugh at your own onscreen murder then surely you can’t be the reprehensible dude-bro everyone thinks you are). And that’s Zoolander 2’s high point, all of five minutes into its bloated102-minute running time.

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Eventually, we catch up to Derek Zoolander (Stiller), living off the grid in the deepest, most extreme corner of New Jersey (insert slight guffaw here), a bearded, if still ridiculously handsome, man alone. That is until Billy Zane (Billy Zane) stops by to deliver his mail (insert product placement for Netflix here) and coaxes the long-retired Zoolander to give his modeling career one more, potentially last go at a fashion show in Rome, all in the interest of reuniting himself with his son, Derek Jr. (Cyrus Arnold). The elder Zoolander lost his son due to really bad parenting (his idiocy got in the way). Zoolander’s wife, Matilda (Christine Taylor, Stiller’s real-world wife)? Perished in a completely preventable accident, another one-off joke that promises far more than Stiller and his three credited co-writers, Justin Theroux, Nicholas Stoller, and John Hamburg take exactly nowhere.

Where’s Hansel (Owen Wilson), Zoolander’s one-time-rival-turned-best-friend, in all this? He’s living in unwedded bliss with an “orgy,” a random assortment of men and women locked into an exclusive, polyamorous relationship with Hansel. When Hansel’s orgy tearfully inform him they’re pregnant (all of them, including the men), Hansel does what any man locked into an exclusive, polyamorous relationship would do: He flees. Luckily for Hansel, however, Billy Zane (Zane again) shows up to invite him to participate in the same fashion show as Zoolander. Before long, Zoolander and Hansel are back in bonding mode, united by their mutual/individual idiocy, only to be embarrassed by a hipster/millennial fashion designer, Don Atari (Kyle Moody), who speaks in nonsensical, contradictory gibberish, and a heavily botoxed label owner, Alexanya Atoz (Kristen Wiig). Like everything else in Zoolander 2, Atoz contributes one joke, her vaguely Eastern European accent), ad nauseum and ad infinitum.

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It all sets the stage, however, for the return of Mugatu (Will Ferrell), the man with a (fashion) plan. While a welcome diversion/reprieve from Zoolander 2’s desperately unfunny shtick, Mugatu quickly outwears his welcome too. The fashion industry satire has given way to spy spoof contortions, all of them done better last year (e.g., Spy, Kingsman: The Secret Service, etc.). In fact, Zoolander 2 borrows most of its plot points from spy-thrillers, amping up the music and visual cues to slightly absurd lengths for comedic purposes, but consistently forgetting to add verbal jokes or even physical comedy at regular intervals. In short, Zoolander 2 has little, actually nothing, to offer fans of its predecessor. Still seems content to lift scenes and bits wholesale from the first film, slightly exaggerating them, and hoping moviegoers will chuckle at the combination. When that doesn’t work, Stiller assumes cramming in celebrity cameos of his closest, personal friends will keep audiences semi-amused if not semi-engaged. He’s wrong, of course. Stiller would have been better off releasing Zoolander 2 online as a series of short webisodes at periodic, but not too frequent, intervals, stretching out the laughs for maximum effect/minimal effort.

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The Author

Mel Valentin

Mel Valentin

Mel Valentin hails from the great state of New Jersey. After attending NYU undergrad (politics and economics major, religious studies minor) and grad school (law), he decided a transcontinental move to California, specifically San Francisco, was in order. Since Mel began writing nine years ago, he's written more than 1,600 film-related reviews and articles. He's a member of the San Francisco Film Critics Circle and the Online Film Critics Society.