Directed by: Ben Stiller
Starring: Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson, Will Ferrell, Penelope Cruz, Kristin Wiig, Cyrus Arnold
Rated: Rated PG-13 for crude and sexual content, a scene of exaggerated violence, and brief strong lanaguage
Comedy sequels aren’t easy, and “Zoolander 2” has a whole lot stacked against it. For one thing, “Zoolander” came out in 2001, so the teens and twentysomethings who liked it then (myself included) are now 30-somethings. With that different an audience, but the tacit expectation that a sequel should be the same but more than its predecessor, “Zoolander 2” seems doomed. I went in without having rewatched the original in the intervening decade and a half, and with very low expectations – a combination that mostly succeeded in letting me have a good time.
“Zoolander 2” has almost exactly the same plot as the first film: model Derek Zoolander (Ben Stiller) is in a slump because nobody likes him anymore. He and his arch-rival/bestie Hansel (Owen Wilson) team up to stop a conspiracy and restore their spots as co-best-models-ever. In this case, the conspiracy is even broader in scope: rather than an assassination, this is about a ritual to gain access to the fountain of youth.
Villainous Mugatu (Will Ferrell) is back, and still as ridiculous as ever, all bizarre hair and clothes and angry yelling. This is one of the few roles I like Ferrell in, and this film was no exception. He’s joined in his villainy by the talented Kristin Wiig, under so much make up as Alexnaya Atoz that she is pretty much unrecognizable. Atoz is so eccentric she makes Mugatu seem almost sedate – she doesn’t walk, she floats. She has had every conceivable youth treatment, and her face is both familiar in its botoxed-sculptedness and deeply unnerving.
Much like the first film, “Zoolander 2” consists mostly of skewered tropes/stereotypes and one-dimensional characters intended to make you laugh. It’s also packed full of cameos – everybody from Justin Bieber to Neil Degrasse Tyson is here. The individual jokes and cameos sort of hang together around the plot, but whether the film gels properly or not is as much a matter of taste as anything else.
The high points include Benedict Cumberbatch as androgynous supermodel All, who speaks exclusively in the third person (“All is done here.”), a slick opening chase scene that made me wonder if I was in the wrong theater, and the mockery of modern tech trends. Low points include a CGI’d Fred Armisen as the eleven-year-old social media mogul Vip, a miscarriage joke in pretty poor taste, and an insistence that a fat character is “not fat, he’s plus-size.” An additional high point may be that said fat character is handled pretty well otherwise, but the bar on good treatment of a fat character in a fashion comedy is set pretty low.
If you liked “Zoolander” and feel nostalgic for the late nineties / early aughts, “Zoolander 2” is a good bet. If you want more in your comedies than silliness and trope-skewering strung together like a cheap bead bracelet, stay away.