Rating in Stars: *½ (out of ****)
Cast: Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson, Penélope Cruz, Will Ferrell, Kristen Wiig
Director: Ben Stiller
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for crude and sexual content, a scene of exaggerated violence, and brief strong language)
Running Time: 1:42
Release Date: 02/12/16
The appeal of 2001’s Zoolander was that its titular protagonist was so adorably daft that one couldn’t help but to like the guy. Zoolander 2, then, seriously tests that theory. Everything about the first film is exacerbated here, including the ever-present potential of going so far over the top that, as the late Roger Ebert (whose infamous hatred of the first film only nurtures curiosity about what the film critic would have thought of this clearly inferior sequel) once put it, it circumnavigates the globe. The jokes come at a faster pace as the targets for the film’s attempted satire have been updated by 15 years. The cameos are more numerous by three times, to a point far short of amusement when one begins to realize that’s the only novel trick up its sleeve. The ratio of the film’s successes to its failures is about one inspired minute to 15 subsequent ones of uninspired lunacy.
Indeed, the best stretch is right at the beginning. After “a scene of exaggerated violence” (clever, MPAA) in which Justin Bieber is murdered rather excessively right outside Sting’s villa in Rome, we become reacquainted with Derek Zoolander’s (co-writer/director Ben Stiller) and old friend Hansel’s (Owen Wilson) fates following the finale of the first film (which, if one remembers, was positively, absurdly optimistic about the possibility of a model’s facial expression stopping a Chinese throwing dart in mid-flight). Derek’s wife Matilda (Christine Taylor) died after the educational institution she and Derek built (the one with the elaborate name) collapsed. Derek’s parenting skills were gravely affected by the tragedy, and Derek Jr. (Cyrus Arnold) was transferred through the system to an orphanage. Derek sought refuge in northern New Jersey (an arctic wasteland).
For his part, Hansel, whose face was, um, disfigured by the collapse, has fled to Malibu (an arid wasteland) and into the arms of an orgy, all of whom, he learns, have been impregnated. He isn’t ready to be the father of 11 children, though, so in spite of Kiefer Sutherland’s tearful protests and when Billy Zane comes calling upon his (and Derek’s) talent as a male model, he travels to Rome to try and find work with new fashion moguls Don Atari (Kyle Mooney) and Alexanya Atoz (an unrecognizable, mostly incoherent Kristen Wiig) in order to find Derek Jr. and be reunited. Soon, though, he is drawn into an investigation led by Valentina Valencia (Penélope Cruz), an agent with the fashion division of Interpol (what?), that has uncovered a startling conspiracy.
Apparently, there is a conspiracy dating back to the very beginning of the human race wherein Steve (the third wheel to Adam and Eve, here played in cameos by Alexander Skarsgård and Karlie Kloss), the first male model, will be the ancestor of the male model to end all others. Bieber’s death was the latest in a series of celebrity murders that all ended with an attempt at one of Derek’s most signature expressions, which when unlocked leads our incredibly stupid models right into the clutches of old foe Mugatu (Will Ferrell) and an ancient tribunal of all the great fashion minds.
This all sounds far cleverer than it is. The screenplay by Stiller, Justin Theroux (who also appears opposite Milla Jovovich in their old roles as Mugatu’s henchmen), Nicholas Stoller, and John Hamburg barely follows any detectable structure until the controlled chaos of the climax. The celebrity cameos, which number far greater than any I have mentioned, lose their luster by the time stars like Olivia Munn, Joe Jonas, Susan Sarandon, and far too many more simply exist in the background (the less said about Benedict Cumberbatch as an androgynous model and Fred Armisen as a ten-year-old child laborer via disturbing digital effects the better off we would be). Zoolander 2 is, frankly, bizarre in a tired way.