After a pair of long public hiatuses, Derek and Hansel are back in the spotlight again – this time to rescue Derek’s son and stop the psychotic Mugatu once and for all, with some help from new and familiar faces alike.
Yeah… ‘number 2’ indeed. On the one hand, “Zoolander 2” not only devalues and shamelessly alludes to the first movie ad nauseam – but it does so with a barrage of unfunny stinkers, superfluous celebrity cameos, and some extremely poorly-written characters. But on the other hand; the performances from Ben, Owen, and Will are just as funny as ever; there are some really funny jokes every now and again amongst the cesspool of bad comedy; and some moments really feel like the original Zoolander, that’s more than you can say for some other needless comedy sequels (Son of the Mask, Sex and the City 2, Dumb and Dumberer: When Harry Met Lloyd).
As stated previously, the returning performers turn in hilarious performances. Ben Stiller is just as great as he was previously playing laughable idiot/male model Derek Zoolander; and by his side is Owen Wilson once again as the equally dimwitted Hansel – both of whom still at the top of their comedic game. Similarly, Will Ferrell back as Mugatu is hysterical in his high-pitched and loud psychotic ramblings and often is the only one who can salvage a failed joke (again, which there are plenty of) just by his demeanor. Sadly, besides Benedict Cumberbatch as a sexually ambiguous model, that’s where the funny performances end. The rest are a deplorable mix of stupid, confusing, and annoying.
Fred Armisen’s head crudely pasted onto the body of a child is utterly confusing, Kyle Mooney as a fashion head uses an unidentifiable vernacular that is clearly trying to allude to some form of lingo but it’s never clear what it is – resulting in every single joke he delivers bombing, Cyrus Arnold as Derek’s obnoxiously intrusive son is more-or-less a walking plot point and nothing more… and so forth. But worst of all is Kristen Wiig’s ear-shredding accent that is obviously butchered for comedic effect, but in the process she completely overdoes it, making it more grating than comical. In short, the old performances are welcome; but the new performances aren’t just bad… they’re reprehensible.
In addition to being back in front of the camera, Ben Stiller is also back behind it as the film’s director. Stiller has previously shown his flair in the director’s chair for such astoundingly well-produced movies as “Reality Bites”, “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty”, “Tropic Thunder”, and of course the original “Zoolander”. So needless to say when it comes to filmmaking, Ben’s no chump. But here – to put it quite bluntly – his return is disappointing (to say the least). When you watch his other films, the direction isn’t just outstanding, it’s downright memorable. But what he provides in “Zoolander 2” is some of the most forgettable, milquetoast direction of the year thus far. His shots are rushed, overly-wacky, and – at times – even lifeless; which is a quality that should be nowhere near a “Zoolander” flick. He also gives the actors surprisingly little to work with, resulting in quips that would barely be apt for a rehearsal take. Then again, a handful of his shots do match the feel of the first film – and that gives some semblance of feel-good-ness that alone is almost worth the price of admission.
“Zoolander 2” stumbles along at an awkward pace, but that could be forgiven with some good writing, right? In those terms, this movie is a mixed bag. The plot is ridiculous like the first one, sure. But it’s too preposterous even for Zoolander’s lineage, and that’s saying something. Also, what isn’t thoroughly hammy and ridiculous is totally basic: The uninteresting love interest that adds no spice to the film, the bare-bones narrative that involves rescuing the star’s son, and worst of all – the fashion satire. The first film was a hilarious, often scathing indictment of the fashion industry at the time and it’s a big part of why so many adored it. Here, it’s barely seen. It trades out uproarious social commentary with an ‘Austin-Powers-Ripoff’ story involving characters we don’t care about or are barely seen. Now that’s sad.
On the plus side, yeah, half of these jokes just fall flat. But the other half? They really feel like jokes from the worthy sequel this could have been. Whether they’re so-dumb-they’re-funny or just genuinely give a good belly laugh, a lot of jokes in this movie really hit home. And when a bad joke does flop, you can sometimes count on the crackerjack performance of the actor to save it – which makes the film more tolerable. Sadly, that’s as positive as it gets. For every joke that lands there’s 4 or 5 that don’t. For every funny performance, there’s 2 awful ones. For every clever plot point, there’s a bog of lackluster ones. You get it.
Allow me to reiterate: I genuinely enjoyed the first “Zoolander”. It was good, dumb fun. Not a masterpiece, often messy at times, but it’s something to admire and has some biting observations of the fashion world. So I went into this film expecting about the same, maybe a little less and definitely not as timeless. When I left the theater, I was satisfied that my movie ticket wasn’t a complete waste of money. Does the bad outweigh the good in “Zoolander 2”? Unfortunately, yes. But not by much, I found myself laughing way more than I expected from this film. It’s serviceable if you’re looking for a few good laughs and some funny actors coming together to supply them. You just have to sift through some stinkers and bad decisions to get there. Is it bad? Yeah, it is. Is it 24% bad? No, not even close. There’s a lot to chortle at in “Zoolander 2”, but there’s also a lot to groan at. And in the end, it can’t compete with the knack the first film had. I give this film 2.3 out of 5 stars.