Thursday, February 11, 2016

Movie Review: 'Zoolander 2'

Some long-gestating movie sequels turn out to be great. Just last year we got both Mad Max: Fury Road and Creed. In the years between chapters the filmmakers took the time to get things right and not sully the name of the originals. Others, however, well, they suck, and they suck hard. One of these is Zoolander 2, which is a tedious, tired, brutally unfunny, single-note disaster that took 15 years to get here. I wish it’d taken longer, like until after I'm dead.

Especially with comedy, and even more so with one so specific and particularly stylized such as Zoolander, keeping the material fresh from movie to movie is a huge challenge. This is an important part of making a successful comedy follow-up—sure, some people want to see the same movie over again, but those people are wrong. One thing the last decade-and-a-half has taught us is that after all this time Derek Zoolander is no longer funny. To be fair, I’ve always been of the camp that he’s not as funny as people thought (though that gas fight is pure gold), but it’s especially true in 2016.

Zoolander lampooned the vapid self-importance of the fashion industry and the culture of the day, while wrapping it in moderately clever, Manchurian Candidate-style trappings. Zoolander 2 tries to update that approach, using a Da Vinci Code knockoff plot where the worlds most beautiful people—pop stars like Justin Bieber, Bruce Springsteen, and Usher—are part of a network to protect the “chosen one.” They’re being killed off, all dying with one of Derek’s signature looks on their faces. This forces Derek Zoolander (writer/director/star Ben Stiller) and his former model BFF Hansel (Owen Wilson) out of the retirement/self-imposed exile they each found themselves in after a shared traumatic event. All Derek really wants to do is reconnect with his estranged son—even though his son is, gasp, a fat loser—but the two friends become embroiled in an elaborate conspiracy that reaches to the very peak of the fashion world, and they must team up with Interpol agent Valentina (Penelope Cruz) to stop the stupidest plot of all time.

With movies like Tropic Thunder, Ben Stiller has shown that he has a unique ability to replicate the styles and trappings of different genres. In Zoolander 2, unfortunately, aside from the opening scene where an unseen assassin pursues Justin Bieber through the streets, that skill set is nowhere to be found. The film is far more concerned with an endless parade of celebrity cameos, callbacks to the original, and shrill, obnoxious attempts to skewer the current state of fashion and pop culture. (I’ve never encountered someone named Kyle Mooney before, he plays a turd of a fashion designer, but he’s now on a list of people I plan to punch in the face given the opportunity.)

The script, which features four credited writers—Ben Stiller, Justin Theroux, Nicholas Stoller, and John Hamburg—never provides any life at all. Derek and Hansel are dumb, you knew that already, but that’s it. Their shtick is stale and worn out, and hasn’t evolved in even the slightest manner since 2001. We already know them, front and back, and while there is no arc, there is also nothing remotely new or fresh about the humor.

People still love Zoolander because it’s sharp and pointed satire, much of which still holds up, but Zoolander 2 is a pointless, soulless rehash that appears to go out of its way to avoid that sort of fun or intelligence. There are woefully few laughs, clocking in at 102 minutes it’s a dull slog, and walking out of the theater all I could think was why in the hell did this needed to happen. There is a sweet Susan Boyle cameo, though, so there’s that timely bit. Dear God, or Steve, please let it be at least another 15 years before this happens again. Preferably longer. [Grade: D]

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