Even if you’re really, really good at it, you don’t want to deliver a eugoogooly. But solemnity is the only tone to take for a film as woefully DOA as Zoolander 2.
The cause of death? Heart failure, as almost no one — least of all Ben Stiller, again co-writing, producing, directing and starring — seems invigorated by much besides manipulating nostalgic fondness for the first film to part you from your money.
Zoolander 2 presumes to indulge in tres-bizarre absurdity when it’s actually just tripling down on regurgitated jokes from the 2001 original at twice the length and half the laughs. Bigger orgies! More little people! Different animals! Willie Nelson! Speaking of which, there’s literally a cameo around every corner, few of them good for more than a chuckle, most met with stony silence. Kiefer Sutherland seems shocked by how often he’s trotted out with so little to do. There’s also no way a daffy-dumb male model like Derek Zoolander (Stiller) would recognize popular scientist Neil deGrasse Tyson; he’d at least refer to him as Mike deGrasse Tyson. The former Tyson is known for tweeting digs at films that get the science wrong. I don’t think he has time to take aim at all the ways Zoolander 2 botches comic chemistry.
And as Dumb and Dumber To did with Lloyd and Harry, Zoolander 2 swaps Derek’s general good nature for feckless cruelty. If the film hasn’t lost you already, it will when Derek — who should be dim but not a dick — calls someone “a fucking idiot.” It seems a fundamental misread of what ticked by incoming screenwriters Justin Theroux (who also reprises his Evil DJ role) and Nicholas Stoller (who would have no movies worth a damn were it not for The Muppets). After 15 years and as many false starts on reviving Derek and so-hot-right-now frenemy Hansel (Owen Wilson, eyes on the exits), this is all they could come up with?
As Derek’s agent, Maury Ballstein, would say: This is crap wrapped in tinfoil, given fishhooks and sold as earrings.
There are moments: Derek’s tiny phone is now retro in an age of phablets; a prison for fashion criminals is shaped like a towering thimble; cheap but effective one-liners land about the rear entrances to bathhouses; the name of a Rome orphanage Derek and Hansel visit cheerfully calls back to a bit from the original; amusingly shoddy masks show up in one scene. But you titter at each with timidity befitting a golf clap, and hardly ever a gleeful cackle.
Its six best laughs, for the record: a scene setting of “Extreme Northern New Jersey,” Kristen Wiig’s wonderful accent mutating the word “faces” into “feces”, a famous actor who turns up to make excuses for epaulets on Members Only jackets, a non sequitur quip about CBS comedies that can only be a Will Ferrell improvisation, the very idea and presentation of a lard bar, and … whatever strange magic occurs when Ferrell and Wiig’s characters attempt to kiss each other.
As the heavies, those two again work their usual weird, wacky magic together. But even they take on the sad desperation of EMTs who are wielding defibrillators that have, like the Blue Steel-lipped corpse beneath them, expired a long time ago.
It’s telling that neither Stiller’s wife, Christine Taylor, nor his dad, Jerry, seemed eager to participate. Maury (Jerry Stiller) testified against nefarious criminal mastermind Jacobim Mugatu (Ferrell) and entered witness protection. We then learn that, just days after opening, the Derek Zoolander Center for Kids Who Can’t Read Good and Who Wanna Learn to Do Other Stuff Good Too collapsed into the East River — killing Derek’s wife, Matilda (Taylor), maiming Hansel and rendering a grieving Derek incapable of caring for his son, Derek Jr., of whom he loses custody.
This might be the first movie to play up 9/11 imagery for laughs — an oddly, insolently and ineffectively thumbed nose at the long-running suggestion that the tragedy may have cut into box-office receipts of the original, released just days later.
Jump to 2016 when Derek and Hansel are drawn from their respective hermetic cloisters for a fashion show in Rome thrown by Alexanya Atoz (Wiig, barely recognizable under fine makeup). Alexanya is a premier designer cum walking petri dish of collagen experimentation gone wrong. Also, her English isn’t just broken, it’s wood-chipped, and Wiig makes the most of her character’s multisyllabic mangling.
For Derek, the show is a chance to prove his worth, rediscover “the fire in his face” and get his son back. For Hansel, it’s a chance to run away from his kids — all 11 on the way, as everyone in his latest orgy is pregnant. Kiefer is especially hormonal.
However, not only do Derek and Hansel become the laughingstock of millennial tastemaker DJ Atari (Kyle Mooney, great on Saturday Night Live and abominable here), they are again ensnared in another nefarious plot orchestrated by Mugatu — who, like Blofeld to Bond, is the architect of all of Derek Zoolander’s pain.
Zoolander 2 suggests it actually was Adam and Steve in the Garden of Eden — the latter the world’s first male model, and in whose veins flowed the Fountain of Youth. Only by cutting out the heart of, and drinking the blood from, Steve’s “chosen one” descendant can Mugatu and his fellow fashionistas achieve immortality. An Interpol agent played by Penelope Cruz — hopelessly bereft of comic timing — gets involved, too, as dead pop stars factor in solely for the sake of even more cameos.
Per the original’s voracious appetite for scarfing down vanity and vapidity, there might be something here about today’s struggle to stay relevant and stylish when trends refresh tri-hourly on Twitter … or the uselessness therein. Alas, no. Just a bevy of fat jokes about the newfound Derek Jr. (Cyrus Arnold), who’s anything but his father — on the portly side with a Prince Valiant haircut … and a brain.
A mistake that all involved would be wise to forget about and move on from, Zoolander 2 may not render your prostate the size of a honeydew, but it will sure as hell leave you with a head full of bad memories.