One of the many charms of Ben Stiller's 2001 fashion world satire Zoolander was its humble-ish beginnings. The idiotic supermodel was created as a joke for a fashion show, and grew wildly from there. The movie itself took some time to finds its feet on the runway, but not only proved to be a hit but arguably Stiller's most enduring, most quotable comedy. It had fun poking at celebrity culture and the quirks of the "incredibly good-looking" people of the world. And apparently everything Stiller had to say about those people was said 15 years ago, because the unnecessary, mostly unfunny sequel Zoolander No. 2 is about as fresh as Cross Colours and Starter jackets.
The best, most inspired ideas come early on, and were sadly given away by the plethora of trailers and promos. A harrowing chase through Rome's city streets finds Justin Bieber at the business end of an assassin's gun, but before he dies he stops long enough for one last selfie. It's the kind of silly, self-deprecating joke that made the original film a cult favorite, but moments like this are few and far between. A flurry of news reports from pretty much every TV journalist on the planet fills us in on Derek Zoolander's misadventures since we last saw him. The dopey model's wife (Stiller's actual wife, Christine Taylor) was killed by the collapse of the Derek Zoolander Center for Kids Who Can’t Read Good and Who Wanna Learn to Do Other Stuff Good Too, which was built on flimsy model materials because he's...well, a dope. Also caught in the destruction was Zoolander's narcissistic buddy, Hansel (Owen Wilson), whose face bears such a "hideous" scar he's gone off into hiding. Zoolander has been living as a hermit(crab) in the frozen tundra of New Jersey ever since, until Billy Zane (Billy Zane!!!) comes walking back into his life with a mission to find out who is killing pop stars.
The original movie was delightfully absurd, taking place in a world where Zoolander's "Blue Steel" look could stop bullets, daggers, and people right in their tracks. Stiller cranks that ridiculousness up to a new level but in the process leaves behind the digs at the industry which was its strength; in favor of goofy spy movie that has more in common with Austin Powers. Zoolander joins with Hansel (who has been living in the desert as part of a polyamorous commune with Kiefer Sutherland) and a sexy agent (Penelope Cruz) from INTERPOL's fashion division to find the murderer, while at the same time reconnecting with his estranged son, Derek Jr. It turns out Zoolander's son is overweight, and a painful gag about whether or not this makes him a bad kid goes on for an interminable length of time.
The stupid murder plot keeps getting in the way of a much better storyline perfectly suited for knocking our superficial culture. Zoolander and Hansel have been out of the game for years and are now seen as relics, and their embarrassing attempts to fit back in provide some of the film's most pointed and hilarious scenes. Their first runway show back ends in utter disaster at the hands of trendy designer Don Atari (an intentionally intolerable Kyle Mooney) and gender-neutral model "All" played by a cat-like Benedict Cumberbatch. While the "All" gag doesn't work, it's at least somewhat inspired, which can't be said about much else. Will Ferrell as the returning villain Mugatu and Kristen Wiig as the Donna Versace-esque Alexanya Atoz help liven things up a little, but not even they can help Zoolander No. 2 be anything more than out of style.
Rating: 2.5 out of 5