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‘Zoolander 2’ is awfully fun

‘Zoolander 2’ is awfully fun

zoo poster

Zoolander 2
Written by Justin Theroux, Ben Stiller, Nicholas Stoller, & John Hamburg
Directed by Ben Stiller
USA, 2016

Zoolander 2 is the Citizen Kane of stupid, unnecessary sequels. There’s enough backhandedness in that compliment to make Roger Federer jealous, but it’s actually meant as high praise. In a world filled with sleepwalking, money-grabbing sequels (see: Hot Tub Time Machine 2), Ben Stiller expends maximum effort on his senseless enterprise. It’s a terrible symphony of baffling weirdness, gratuitous cameos, and ham-fisted performances. Like cinematic malaria, Zoolander 2 drains your resistance with its fever-dream insanity. So just strike a pose, turn off your brain, and wallow in the madness.

Fifteen years ago, Derek Zoolander (Stiller) was on top of the world. He was the hottest fashion model on the planet, had a gorgeous wife and newborn son (Cyrus Arnold as ‘Derek Jr.’), and was completing construction on the ‘School for Kids Who Can’t Read Good and Want to Do Other Stuff Good Too.’ Then it all came crashing down… literally. Built from construction paper and Popsicle sticks, the school came tumbling down, crushing his wife to death and “disfiguring” his friend/rival, Hansel (Owen Wilson). Finally, social services takes Derek Jr. away after a disturbing paparazzi video captures an enraged Zoolander trying to make spaghetti (“How did mommy make it soft?!?”). Now he lives in self-imposed exile as a “hermit crab” in Extreme Northern New Jersey.

zoo derekBlue Steel is all but a memory when Billy Zane (!!) pays Zoolander a surprise visit, offering him one last trip down the runway and a chance to prove he can be a good father to Derek Jr. Zane also pays a visit to the retired Hansel, who spends his days meditating in the Uncharted Malibu Territories and tending to his multi-gender, trans-species ‘Orgy’ (which includes Kiefer Sutherland). The rejuvenated posers re-unite in Rome, where they must evade their old nemesis Mugatu (Will Ferrell), and help a sexy INTERPOL agent, Valentina (Penelope Cruz), track down The Chosen One; the blood heir to the world’s first super-model. It’s all completely absurd and wonderful.

Just from this convoluted description it should be apparent that Stiller and his stable of screenwriters aren’t holding anything back. They understand exactly what their movie is (and isn’t), and they attack each scene with delirious energy. Everyone is trying their best to entertain you, no matter how humiliating it may be to their person. Even the more outrageous cameos—a Benedictine Sting and a Benedict Cumberbatch (as a hermaphrodite model named ‘All’)—give maximum effort. Each character is more bizarre than the last, including a fashion diva named Alexanya (Kristen Wiig), whose speech pattern defies description or understanding, and a computer-generated man/child named VIP (Fred Armisen). Why does VIP have a disturbingly small CGI body? Because that’s how Zoolander 2 rolls!

zoo wiigEven though everything about his film is offensively stupid, Stiller knows the greatest offense of any comedy, let alone an unwanted sequel, is boredom. More importantly, he understands the Zoolander ‘bit’ is just a glorified comedy sketch that’s been stretched to outrageous proportions. Appropriately, he makes the secondary cast the center of attention. Stiller’s always been a generous writer and director, which means Wilson, Ferrell, and even Cruz get plenty of chances to shine. In fact, Cruz’ lampoon of swimsuit models is one of the film’s highlights. That she can swim like Flipper comes as a nice surprise, as well.

Zoolander 2 tries (and mostly succeeds) to convince you that it’s an R-rated comedy. It will never be able to compete with the unabashed vulgarity of Deadpool, but it does feel surprisingly risqué for a PG-13 film (the MPAA rating in America). More than sex and violence, Stiller pushes the envelope on bizarre. Cow nipples spew molten lard, and we get the entire mythology of the Chosen One (named ‘Steve’) who lived in the Garden of Eden with Adam and Eve. A meaningless sequel has no business being this peculiar, but Stiller holds nothing back. He fills the screen with shiny weird objects to draw our attention away from the stupidity of it all. Well played, sir. Well played.

zoo jr

All of the performances are predictably over-the-top. Ferrell is hilarious in a surprisingly small role, while Cyrus Arnold steals every scene as Derek’s disappointingly ‘plus-sized’ son. What everyone will be talking about, of course, are the cameos. Literally dozens of them! The question becomes, “Are all of these cameos necessary or just shameless attempts to drum up cheap laughs?” The answer is, “Yes”… to both parts. Stars like Bieber and Sting actually contribute something to the plot, while celebrities like Neil deGrasse Tyson (yep, he’s in it) and Katy Perry fulfill no purpose but gratuitous name-dropping. With the exception of some tragically-stilted fashion designer cameos, however, each slumming celebrity does entertaining work.

Zoolander 2 is bloody awful, but in an endearing, “Let’s get drunk and watch something stupid!” kind of way. While audiences aren’t likely to be clamoring for a third installment, they will appreciate the generous number of laughs this sequel supplies (with an admitted degree of guilt). It might also be the weirdest mainstream Hollywood release all year. If you have appropriately low expectations and a healthy sense of fun, Zoolander 2 will eventually wear you down with its infectious gonzo energy.