Film Review: ‘Zoolander 2’

Zoolander 2 trailer
Courtesy of Paramount

We waited 15 years ... for this?

It may have been a really, really ridiculously good-looking idea on paper, but Ben Stiller’s attempt to bring back one of his more beloved creations feels like a cheap designer knockoff in “Zoolander 2.” Falling well below the standards of “Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues” (2014) in the long-delayed-sequel sweepstakes, this flailing follow-up drags the endearingly dim-witted Derek Zoolander out of retirement for an extended Roman holiday, backed by a parade of real-life celebrities and fashion-world denizens who are now very much in on the joke. If only that joke weren’t so far past its sell-by date: The results may delight those who believe recycled gags and endless cameos to be the very essence of great screen comedy, but everyone else will likely recognize Stiller’s wannabe Magnum opus as a disappointment-slash-misfire, the orange mocha crappuccino of movie sequels.

Just as “Anchorman 2” nearly doubled the worldwide gross of its 2004 predecessor, so Paramount’s extravagantly marketed Feb. 12 release should handily overtake the original “Zoolander’s” $60 million domestic haul, capitalizing on the now-widespread love for a movie (Terrence Malick is one of its biggest fans) that didn’t really hit its stride, culturally and commercially, until it entered the home-viewing market. A highly quotable, deliriously off-the-wall spoof that approached its targets with a weird mix of sweetness and savagery, “Zoolander” understandably took some time finding its audience. Bowing mere weeks after Sept. 11, 2001, Stiller’s movie provided some welcome distraction from a national trauma, even if a plot twist involving an assassination attempt on the Malaysian prime minister struck some as unforgivably tasteless (notably Roger Ebert, though he reversed his stance a few years later).

While it provided a convenient hook on which to hang one inspired burst of silliness after another, the espionage plot was easily the first film’s least compelling element. There’s even more tiresome international intrigue afoot in “Zoolander 2,” which kicks off with Justin Bieber being chased, cornered and machine-gunned to death — a violently protracted tableau that non-Beliebers will probably have converted into GIFs by week’s end. Before he succumbs, the bullet-riddled pop star manages to post one last selfie on Instagram, his features frozen in what appears to be Derek Zoolander’s famous brow-furrowed, pouty-lipped Blue Steel look (the impossibility of distinguishing among all these near-identical poses remains a key running gag).

Unfortunately, no one has seen Zoolander in years. As we learn in a lengthy catch-up sequence, the Derek Zoolander Center for Kids Who Can’t Read Good and Wanna Learn to Do Other Stuff Good Too fell on hard times shortly after it was built, separating our hero from his love interest, Matilda (Christine Taylor, blink and you miss her), and from their young son, Derek Jr. Miserable and forgotten, Zoolander has gone into self-imposed exile in the frigid northern wilds (of New Jersey), huddling alone in a cabin like the world’s best-coiffed mountain man. Meanwhile, his estranged friend and ex-rival, Hansel (Owen Wilson), quit modeling after being disfigured in a freak accident, and now spends his days in the parched dunes (of Malibu), wearing a gold mask and having group sex like some yoga-loving Phantom of the Orgy.

And so it’s up to Billy Zane (once again playing himself) to track down these two feuding former Fabios and drag them back into the world of high fashion — specifically, to Rome, where they’re welcomed into the enclave of a vaguely sinister, Donatella Versace-esque fashion empress named Alexanya Atoz (Kristen Wiig, all trout lips and tortured vowels). Alexanya’s lavish, structurally precarious outfits represent by far the most outlandish of Leesa Evan’s cheeky costume designs, though for sheer style it’s hard to beat the form-fitting crimson jumpsuit worn by Valentina Valencia (Penelope Cruz), a special agent with “Interpol’s Global Fashion Division” who’s trying to find out who’s killing off Bieber, Madonna, Bruce Springsteen, Demi Lovato, Lenny Kravitz and the world’s other most beautiful people.

If that already sounds too plotty by half, we haven’t even gotten to the inevitable return of Zoolander’s clown-haired old nemesis, Mugatu (Will Ferrell, energetically nasty as ever), or the “Da Vinci Code”-style legend of a secret bloodline that may hold the key to eternal youth. And then there’s the small matter of the long-lost Derek Jr. (Cyrus Arnold), a pudgy, socially awkward kid who’s been holed up for years at an orphanage in (you guessed it) Rome. Their reunion is anything but a happy one. The boy has nothing but contempt for the dad who abandoned him, while Zoolander is ready to disown his son on the basis of the boy’s less-than-perfect physique: “I’m seriously thinking my fat son might be a terrible person.”

That’s one of the few halfway memorable lines in a script (penned by Stiller, Justin Theroux, John Hamburg and Nicholas Stoller) that otherwise takes what was once breezily enjoyable, if hit-or-miss, and turns it into something that feels awfully close to drudgery. Really, the dumb thing about “Zoolander 2” is that it isn’t nearly dumb enough: Rather than coasting along on a stream of blissful comic idiocy, it cobbles together a busy skein of twists and complications, as if the mental strain of following along might distract us from how crushingly unfunny it is. Things bog down further still with the incessant, obligatory callbacks to the original — look, it’s the Evil DJ! The assistant with the foamy latte! Did we mention Billy Zane? — which land with all the freshness of last decade’s fashion craze. Call it fan service or franchise continuity, but the result is a movie that basically telegraphed its best material 15 years in advance.

Counteracting that tendency to some extent, the writers aim to deliver an up-to-the-minute spoof on the excesses of the fashion industry and the general toxicity of 21st-century celebrity culture. Much of this is embodied by Don Atari (Kyle Mooney), an insufferable young anti-fashion designer who’s like all your worst hipster-douchebag nightmares rolled into one; he’s the kind of forward thinker who would set up a catwalk on an industrial waste site rather than at one of Rome’s famous landmarks (a few of which, including the Pantheon, the Spanish Steps and Cinecitta Studios, register fleetingly in d.p. Dan Mindel’s drive-by lensing). Annoying as he is, Atari serves as a reminder that the world of haute couture — already an easy target when Stiller first introduced us to Derek Zoolander at the 1996 VH1 Fashion Awards — has long since become its own parody of itself, making any attempt at spoofery redundant at best.

The first “Zoolander” recognized this: It worked not by mocking the absurdity of the fashion scene, but by positioning Stiller and Wilson as absurd, improbably successful figures within that scene. Some (but not much) of the actors’ combative chemistry remains here, and Stiller retains his gift for the well-chosen malapropism, whether he’s describing himself as a “laughingstick” or making unintentional reference to a white-supremacist group. But as actor and director, he seems to exhibit no overarching vision this time around, no sense of driving inspiration or even basic comic timing; the darkly subversive sensibility behind “The Cable Guy” and the few inspired patches of “Tropic Thunder” is entirely absent here.

Perhaps that’s only to be expected from what ultimately feels less like a movie than an exercise in cross-promotional synergy — an excuse for Stiller and Wilson to don Valentino trenchcoats and sashay their way through Paris Fashion Week, blurring the line between a gag and a photo op. Not that the fashion industry’s embrace/co-opting of the “Zoolander” phenomenon would matter if the end product were a movie worthy of an audience’s love. There may not be enough satirical bite to “Zoolander 2,” but there isn’t enough honest affection or silliness, either: It just comes across as toothless and scattershot, whether it’s trotting out Benedict Cumberbatch as a gender-ambivalent supermodel named All, or padding the later scenes with self-mocking (really self-flattering) cameos by Valentino, Vera Wang, Marc Jacobs, Tommy Hilfiger and Anna Wintour.

Those brief cutaways — which are so poorly integrated they might have been filmed in a Siberian meat locker — are at least more germane than the surreally random one-scene appearances of celebrities like Katy Perry, Susan Sarandon, Sting and Neil deGrasse Tyson, who is sadly unable to rationalize the movie’s existence from a cosmological point of view. Presumably Donald Trump was too busy campaigning to make a return visit, but whatever he was up to, it was assuredly more entertaining than this.

Film Review: ‘Zoolander 2’

Reviewed at Paramount Studios, Los Angeles, Feb. 4, 2016. MPAA Rating: PG-13. Running time: 102 MIN.


A Paramount release and presentation of a Red Hour/Scott Rudin production. Produced by Ben Stiller, Stuart Cornfeld, Rudin, Clayton Townsend, Jeff Mann.


Directed by Ben Stiller. Screenplay, Justin Theroux, Stiller, John Hamburg, Nicholas Stoller, based on the characters created by Drake Sather, Stiller. Camera (Deluxe color, Panavision widescreen), Dan Mindel; editor, Greg Hayden; music, Theodore Shapiro; music supervisor, George Drakoulias; production designer, Jeff Mann; art directors, Saverio Sammali, Armando Savoia; set decorator, Lucy Eyre; costume designer, Leesa Evans; sound (Dolby Digital), Maurizio Argentieri; sound designer, Craig Henighan; re-recording mixers, Skip Lievsay, Henighan; stunt coordinators, Greg Fitzpatrick, Franco Maria Salamon; special effects supervisors, Daniel Dominic Acon, Maurizio Corridori; visual effects supervisor, Max Wood; visual effects producer, Lauren Ritchie; visual effects, Pasquale Di Viccaro, Mr. X Gotham, Lola VFX, MPC, the Artery, Psyop, Territory Studio; associate producers, Sarah Rae Davidson, John Hudson, Mike Rosenstein; line producer, Marco Valerio Pugini; assistant director, David H. Venghaus Jr.; second unit director, Jeff Mann; casting, Rachel Tenner.


Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson, Will Ferrell, Penelope Cruz, Kristen Wiig, Fred Armisen, Kyle Mooney, Milla Jovovich, Christine Taylor, Justin Theroux, Nathan Lee Graham, Cyrus Arnold, Billy Zane, Jon Daly, Sting, Benedict Cumberbatch, Justin Bieber, Billy Zane, Katy Perry, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Sting, Anna Wintour, Alexander Wang, Marc Jacobs, Tommy Hilfiger, Kate Moss, Valentino. (English, Italian dialogue)

Filed Under:

Want to read more articles like this one? SUBSCRIBE TO VARIETY TODAY.
Post A Comment 21

Leave a Reply


Comments are moderated. They may be edited for clarity and reprinting in whole or in part in Variety publications.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

  1. Mario Diaz says:

    Zoolander 1 was one of the best commedies ever, that movie is full of personalities and very funny cameos, the new one (zoolander 2) is as bad as the new artist invited….shame on production inviting Penelope Cruz and her lack of talent and her awful purposed accent, ariana grande, mr west and so on….that are the “newbies” personalities (without talent) involved in such movie….very very disappointing

  2. Parthenon, not Pantheon.

    • trixi817 says:

      No sweetie Pantheon is right. The Pantheon is a Roman Temple designed by Marcus Agrippa. It’s located in Rome in the Piazza della Rotunda. And yes, there is a Parthenon is another temple, only this one is Greek and it is located in Athens Greece.

  3. Mike says:

    It was funny. Hate to break it to you. And like 100X funnier than the borefest Hail Caesar.

  4. When are people going to learn to not try and make sequels, especially when the first film was not that great.

  5. I think Zoolander 2 should’ve been in the same vein as the original, but point it toward a new industry. I think the music industry has become such a joke now, where pop stars are almost porn stars with their marketing and it’s more about your look and gimmick than your music. Or he could’ve created a character who’s a fame whore with no talent and effectively eviscerate that part of our current media. Think a male version of KimK. But to give us more of the same, and even do it poorly as this article suggests, makes me sad when there are so many other entertainment facets that deserve the “Zoolander” treatment.

  6. Lousnama says:

    ik heb zoolander 2 nog niet gezien maar ik hoop wel te zien. het lijkt me echt een leuke film.

  7. Val says:

    Only one real argument out of me: Derek and Hansel should never be referred to as “former Fabios.” They won the coveted Male Model of the Year, and Fabio only won a Slashie (as “best actor ‘slash’ model and not the other way around”)!

  8. orionsaint says:

    Hollywood keeps waiting too long to make sequels. By the time they do. Everyone is a lot older and the story and acting seems forced. It happened with Anchorman 2 and Dumb & Dumber 2. Look at my Greek Wedding 2. How long ago was the first one? A sequel should come to 2 to 4 years after the first film. So it’s fresh in everyone’s mind.

  9. stevenkovacs says:

    Masses of Beliebers plan to go see the movie just for Justin’s cameo, and catwalk out of the cinemas after his death selfie scene. Drama!

  10. Justin Theroux should burn any object that allows him to write.

    How many flops before he’s banned from putting words on paper.

    • Bill B. says:

      I think Justin Theroux is busy with The Leftovers & his high maintenance wife. Perhaps writing is actually not your forte.

      • I think Theroux avoids his “wife” at all costs, which is why he lives on one coast and she lives on another, and this has nothing to do with whether they are working or not.

        Maybe Theroux will finally realize his “wife” doesn’t know the REAL Hollywood power players, all she knows are the has beens and wanna be’s like herself. He needed to do more research and hook up with a sugar mama with more HW connections. After all, Friends was ONLY a TV sitcom that was popular well over a decade ago.

  11. Guy says:

    Will no one else admit that BS is just not that creative or edgy today? Even OW is looking very “old school”— most young people today don’t know who he is…

More Film News from Variety