Some movies come along at just the right time. Others run into bad luck because of when they’re released. “Zoolander” was one of the rare movies that had the blessing and the curse of being both.
Released on September 28, 2001, Ben Stiller’s hilarious satire of the male-modeling industry came out just 17 days after the devastating attacks of 9/11. Of course, Paramount Pictures could never have expected that the nation’s worst terror attack would have come so soon before the release, but they took the gutsy move of hoping the nation would need to laugh and stuck to their release date while other movies rescheduled their release dates until months later. And so, many might forget, but the original “Zoolander” was initially a polarizing film. While some critics loved it, Roger Ebert only gave it one star and ripped it for its plot involving the assassination of the Malaysian President, saying that it was just a prime sign of why the Muslim world hates the US. The movie topped out earning just over $40 million, a mediocre figure that seemed to indicate that this was a movie destined to be largely forgotten. But video and cable turned it into a richly deserved cult hit, and talk arose of a sequel. Inexplicably, it’s taken over 14 years to get one made, but this weekend “Zoolander 2” finally arrives. Unfortunately, it suffers from the same kind of problem as countless other sequels that disappointed ala “Ghostbusters 2”: since it can’t be fresh anymore, it settles for being bigger and louder.
The movie opens with an elaborate action scene in which a hooded figure is chased through the streets of Rome by a hitman on a motorcycle. It’s revealed that the man in the hoodie is Justin Bieber (hilarious choice), and the audience broke into some mild applause as he proceeded to get shot about 50 times and then drop dead after taking a last perfect selfie.
An Interpol agent (Penelope Cruz) is informed of the killing immediately, since Bieber is just the latest in the string of vacuous celebrities including Usher who have all been shot down as well before dying with the same perfect facial pose . Only one man can interpret what the selfies mean: Derek Zealander. But as a fast-paced montage shows, Zoolander has become a recluse in “extreme northern New Jersey” after his Center for Kids Who Can’t Read Good collapsed, killing his wife and scarring his fellow model Hansel (Owen Wilson) irreparably. Hansel is hiding with a commune in the African desert, engaging in a non-stop orgy that inexplicably includes Kiefer Sutherland as part of the community.
The Interpol agent tricks both into coming to Rome for a fashion show, and Derek agrees to come out of retirement only because doing some work will help him regain the son that authorities took away from him due to his parental incompetence. But it turns out that the fashion show is an elaborate scam to get Derek and Hansel to team up again and stop the evil fashion designer Mugatu (Will Ferrell) from a new evil scheme.
I’ll leave the plot description there, because much of the rest of the film just gets more and more convoluted, rather than simply being funny. I really wanted this to work, because in my opinion Ben Stiller had an amazing run as very funny yet highly relatable comic everyman who put inventive twists into a lot of his work before wasting his talents the past five years with lame sequels to “Meet the Parents” and “Night at the Museum.” Unfortunately, he instead adds this one to that string.
It seems that Stiller is trying so hard to prove he hasn’t lost his edge after making the family-friendly films that he has invested more effort in having dozens of cameos than in writing dozens of great jokes. And it’s really sad to see Wilson return to a role that could restore his own severely weakened box –office luster and wind up with material that doesn’t give him much to do after a couple of hilarious initial scenes.
The biggest problem here is that the “Zoolander” films are part of a rare breed of comedies where one really has to judge it based on how offended one might get, as well as by the artistic quality of the movie – and there is a lot here to be discerning about. Implied but unshown bisexuality, homosexual verbal advances, even implied orgies and a quick gag implying bestiality are all at least passing aspects of this movie, though the tone is so clearly absurd it is nearly impossible to take it seriously.
While this is definitely not for kids, its intended audience of older teens and young adults can likely understand that this is ridiculous and not face lasting damage. Older audiences would likely be more offended, but then they are also more likely to realize the movie is mostly downright stupid.
Is it Dateworthy? If you and your date have a really broad sense of humor, it might be, but at the same time, the movie is so disappointing compared to the first one’s classic status that it’s really hard to say it could make a great night out. It’s OK if you really like the subject and stars, but otherwise head to a comedy club.
It’s not that “Zoolander 2” is the worst sequel you’ve ever seen, or will make you hate your life for the two hours you’re watching it. But just as you wouldn’t reward a petulant child for its bad behavior, you shouldn’t reward this movie with your attendance.