In 2001, Ben Stiller and his comedic friends gave audiences a stupidly charming movie called Zoolander that featured an idiotic male model unraveling a conspiracy to assassinate the prime minister of Malaysia. It was a unique experience wholly unto its own, one tethered to our world, yet building upon the foundation of its own original world. Zoolander was a breath of fresh air, a soothing romp of creativity that embedded itself into our collective brains.
Fifteen years later, Zoolander’s enduring charm has gifted us with a Trojan horse. The sequel, Zoolander 2, is pretty on the outside, but its innards are either missing or have been prematurely released into theaters. Though funny at moments, what once was fresh, carefree and exciting is often slow, plotting and dull. Zoolander 2 wants to hit all the right notes again. It wants to recreate scenes we remember from 15 years ago, raising an orange mocha frappuccino in tribute to fond memories and beloved characters, this time with a twist. But it fails. Each twist feels forced, and this painstaking attempt to catch lightning in a bottle twice dampers the mood.
That’s the big problem with Zoolander 2 - a good chunk of the film is devoted to recreating “classic” scenes. Thrown into the mix are a heavy-handed dose of celebrity cameos and a convoluted plot seemingly inspired by The Da Vinci Code. Zoolander 2 gets so tied up in its own story that it often forgets to throw audiences more than a half-baked joke to keep them interested. What should have been a simple story about Derek Zoolander (Ben Stiller) reconnecting with his lost son is morphed into an ill-conceived conspiracy concerning the royal bloodline of the first male model, complete with misdirection, forced mystery, and characters with questionable motives.
The cameos, on the other hand, are almost nonstop. Celebrities from all walks of life and all areas of fame drop in to make a quip or two, often with no setup. Why are Katy Perry and Neil DeGrasse Tyson randomly singing from rooftops in Rome? Because. Why is Susan Sarandon quoting her character from The Rocky Horror Picture Show? Because. Why is MC Hammer dragged in to make a dated joke about Hammer pants? Because.
Having said that, there is one celebrity cameo that delivers. Kiefer Sutherland arguably steals the movie with his comedic timing and overwhelming emotional neediness. It’s a role we haven’t quite seen from Sutherland, one that has him portraying a spurned lover of one of the two leads, Hansel (Owen Wilson). In 102 minutes of emptiness, Sutherland’s occasional appearance is the audience’s port in the storm. It’s the one creative joke the Zoolander 2 team managed to put together.
The rest of Zoolander 2 simply lacks the thoughtfulness of the original film. Many of the pieces are here, such as Will Ferrell’s flamboyantly maniacal Mugatu or Stiller’s amusing portrayal of Zoolander, but there’s no charm. The world of Zoolander 2 is too obsessed with celebrities and pot-boiler conspiracies. There’s no room for fun and no room for the audience to sit back, relax and forget about the bleakness of the outside world. In the 15 years since the original, the hero we remember, the one who only wanted to build a “center for kids who can’t read good,” lost his way. Instead of being gifted with an institution of comedy, we’re gifted with a center for ants.
Starring: Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson, Will Ferrell, Penélope Cruz, Kristen Wiig, and Fred Armisen
Directed by: Ben Stiller
Written by: John Hamburg, Justin Theroux, Stiller, and Nick Stoller
Running time: 102 minutes