Monday, May 30, 2016

Movie Review: Zoolander 2

Zoolander 2
Directed by: Ben Stiller.
Written by: Justin Theroux & Ben Stiller and Nicholas Stoller and John Hamburg based on characters created by Drake Sather & Ben Stiller.
Starring: Ben Stiller (Derek), Owen Wilson (Hansel), Penélope Cruz (Valentina Valencia), Will Ferrell (Jacobim Mugatu), Kristen Wiig (Alexanya Atoz), Kyle Mooney (Don Atari), Cyrus Arnold (Derek Jr.), Christine Taylor (Matilda), Justin Theroux (Evil DJ), Milla Jovovich (Katinka), Billy Zane (Billy Zane), Fred Armisen (VIP), Benedict Cumberbatch (All), Sting (Sting), Nathan Lee Graham (Todd).
When I saw the original Zoolander, in a nearly empty theater back in the fall of 2001, I didn’t laugh very much – I thought it was, to put it mildly, dumb and unfunny. It was the type of dumb comedy that I normally would have never given a second thought to after watching it once and not enjoying it. But, a few years later, my wife wanted to watch it for some reason – and so we did. And she laughed, and I laughed, and by the end, I found I had quite liked it. It became a favorite of my wife’s – and although it never went that far for me, I saw bits and pieces of the film a number of times over the years (and probably the whole movie once and twice more) – and I have to admit, my first impression of the film was wrong. It really is quite funny. It’s dumb, of course, but that’s part of its charm. I don’t know if it’s smart-dumb – like the best of the Will Ferrell/Adam McKay movies – or dumb-dumb (like, uh, the worst of the Will Ferrell/Adam McKay movies), but to this day, mention a freak gasoline fight accident to me, and I’ll laugh.
I skipped Zoolander 2 in theaters – not just because the reviews were bad, but also because with two kids at home, the number of movies my wife and I get to see in theaters together is limited – and I don’t think either one of us wanted to waste one on it (strangely, we did go to the movies the weekend Zoolander 2 came out – but like everyone else in the world we saw Deadpool instead – good call on our part) – and I figured if I had any chance of enjoying Zoolander 2, it would be with my wife, on the same couch where we have enjoyed the original Zoolander on any number of occasions. Dear reader, it didn’t help. Zoolander 2 is awful.
I’m not going to say I didn’t laugh at all during Zoolander 2 – that wouldn’t be accurate. Every time Kyle Mooney’s Don Atari opened his mouth, I laughed. Mooney is playing a young fashion designer who cheerfully announces that “That’s terrible. I love it”, or some variation on it, every time he opens his mouth, and it’s funny the first time you hear it – and somehow even funnier each successive time. I’d watch a whole movie about him.
But not much else had me as much as smiling throughout the film. The film is ridiculously over plotted – with a vast conspiracy led by Mugatu (Will Ferrell), who has been in fashion jail since the first movie, and centered on Zoolander’s son, Derek Jr. (Cyrus Arnold), who was taken away from him nearly a decade ago after the death of Zoolander’s wife (Christine Taylor – here in ghost form), when it became clear that Zoolander didn’t even know how to make pasta soft. He’s been in hiding ever since – as has Hansel (Owen Wilson) – who is having some problems with his orgy. They are drawn out of hiding, and eventually either enlist the help of, or become enlisted by, Valentina Valencia (Penelope Cruz), of the Fashion Division of Interpol, who is trying to stop whatever the hell is going on.
Aside from being ridiculously over plotted – the film is also basically a string of celebrity cameos from the Justin Bieber opening on down. Sometimes celebrities are basically doing nothing except standing in the background, and sometimes they have actual roles as themselves, and are admittedly good sports about mocking themselves – including a number of high profile fashion designers at the end, who portray themselves as members of a murderous cult.
To me, the film seemed rather toothless in its view of the fashion industry – an industry I know little about to be honest (whenever I find myself scrolling through those slideshows of the Best/Worst Dressed Celebrities, I end up being stunned about what is seen as good and bad fashion). Zoolander and Hansel are portrayed as empty headed idiots to be sure – but the rest of the industry isn’t. The shots they do take – like those fashion designers as murderous cultists – are so outlandish that they cannot be taken as a serious critique. The parade of celebrity cameos distracts from the film, as it desperately tries to shoehorn everyone in.
The surprising thing about Zoolander 2 is how lazy and slapped together the film feels. This feels like the type of thing that was rushed into production when the original became an unexpected hit, and the studio wants another one the next year to strike when the iron is hot. But the original came out 15 years ago, and has been a cult hit (it didn’t do very well at the box office either for more than a decade – with rumors of a sequel floating around for a long, long time. Stiller is a talented actor – but also a fine director of comedies as well – Tropic Thunder (2008) remains an on-point Hollywood satire for example. Here, he seems like he’s in cruise control – and everyone follows his lead. Now, to be fair, I didn’t like the original when I first saw it – it took me a few years to come around on it. If you want to be an optimist, perhaps the same thing will happen with Zoolander 2 – but I doubt it. For one thing, my wife hated it more than I did (she did not find Kyle Mooney funny) – so I don’t think we’ll be re-watching it again anytime soon.

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