‘Zoolander 2’ stumbles on the runway | Film Review

Zoolander 2
From left to right: Owen Wilson as Hansel, Ben Stiller as Derek Zealander and Penelope Cruz as Valentina in 'Zoolander 2.' (MTSU Sidelines / FILE)

Zoolander 2 brings back everyone’s favorite moronic male models and has them become “fully self-realized” by the end. The film has everything one would expect from a Zoolander sequel: countless celebrity cameos, over-the-top irreverence and so many reductive parallels to the original that the sequel has very little ground of its own on which to stand. In this latter respect, Zoolander 2 is more or less a parody of the original, but designed for 2016 and with a slightly broader plot.

The original film focused on Derek Zoolander (Ben Stiller), winner of “Male Model of the Year” for three consecutive years and loser in nearly every other way. He rose to fame with signature looks like “Blue Steel” and “Magnum.” A younger, cooler model named Hansel (Owen Wilson) dethrones Derek as “Male Model of the Year.” And the rest of the film is about Derek trying to find himself, until he gets brainwashed when he decides to reestablish his identity as a male model. But it has a happy ending with Derek marrying his love interest and having a child, Derek Junior.

Zoolander was an irreverent satire full of dumb jokes and ridiculous gags. But its real selling point was the complimentary idiocy between Zoolander and Hansel. The combo returns in Zoolander 2, but it’s stumbling on the runway this time.

The plot is two-dimensional with another nefarious scheme by fashion villains: A-List celebrities are being murdered for reasons beyond comprehension. But one man might have an answer, a man now known by the alias “Eric Twolander.” And after a CGI news montage similar to a CSI transition attempts to explain all that happened since the original 2001 film, everything makes sense — at least, as much sense as this film can make.

While the plot is predictable, there are some moments of delightful surprise. Though half of the good jokes in the film reference the original, the references rarely feel exhaustive or cheap. If anything, the references define the film as a parody of both the original and even itself. This parody becomes fully realized near the end when Mugatu (Will Ferrell) delivers a brief monologue.

In the original Zoolander, Mugatu had a short moment at the height of climax where he revealed his true nature as the villain. What Mugatu had to say then was entirely relevant to the plot and seemed like a true emotional breakdown. However, Mugatu’s brief monologue in Zoolander 2 is a deliberate reference to the original and an overt attack on the film itself with only necessary relevance to the plot. But it works for the sake of itself, and that’s how most of the movie goes.

The self-satirization of parody offers something clever enough to draw attention away from the neglected plot. But this film was never meant to be about plot in the first place. Zoolander 2 seems to have three intentions: poking fun at modern society, satirizing itself and piggybacking on gimmicks of the original. And it mostly does a good job at these, but there are obviously uncomfortable moments in the film.

For starters, Benedict Cumberbatch as a genderqueer supermodel by the name of “All” was a terrible decision. Is being genderqueer a popular thing in the fashion world? If so, maybe this tasteless gag wasn’t so misguided. But if the joke relies entirely on the growing awareness of gender identity in society, then it’s hard to imagine how the relevance of this minor character could ever outweigh its demeaning use.

Other uncomfortable moments of the movie include fat-shaming children and a blatant 9/11 joke that grows into a 9/11 conspiracy joke by the end of the film. Most of the societal satire in this film is really basic stuff people already comment on, and the movie doesn’t comment on it much better.

The barrage of mocking jokes and celebrity cameos removes the bad taste of these uncomfortable moments well enough. But most jokes don’t make much of an impression, and a lot of the cameos are just gimmicks for cheap laughs. Remove these decorations, and all that remains is a clumsy plot that hinges on a melodramatic theme of fatherhood. Truly, Zoolander 2 is about Derek and Derek Junior with a side story about Hansel’s daddy issues.

But as it has already been pointed out, this film was never about plot. Like the original, it’s all about the dumb jokes and ridiculous gags. But unlike the original, the jokes aren’t fresh. They are childish and almost entirely irrelevant to the fashion world.

So while Zoolander 2 is a good follow-up to the original for 2016, it lacks the ingenuity that made the original Zoolander special. It’ll be worth renting for a drunk movie night, but it’s not worth a ticket.

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To contact Lifestyles editor Tanner Dedmon email lifestyles@mtsusidelines.com.

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