Director: Ben Stiller
Starring: Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson, Will Ferrell, Penélope Cruz, Kristen Wiig, Fred Armisen
In an era of reboots, a long-awaited sequel to a beloved film can either be a stunning success (aka Toy Story 3), or it can be something that should have never happened. Or joked about, either. To my utter devastation, this is exactly what has happened with Zoolander 2. Director and star Ben Stiller won the respect of a few with his successful engineering of the original Zoolander film, and showed more potential through his direction of the 2013 comedy-drama The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. Now, with a sassy flash of Blue Steel, Stiller has set himself back in his career as a director – that is, if he foolishly chooses to continue the pursuit of one.
Following an egregiously-acted scene in which Justin Bieber (who should never attempt to act ever again) is murdered, the audience finds that the infamous model Derek Zoolander (Stiller) has mucked-up his life so badly since 2001 that he has decided to live as a “hermit crab”. After a brief update on his life – his wife died, and he has an estranged son – we learn that once again it’s up to Derek and his rival-turned-friend Hansel (Owen Wilson) to save the world of high fashion.
There are a couple of good things about Zoolander 2, it does have its funny moments, and a couple of clever new supporting characters. Kristen Wiig is an addition to the cast as Alexanya Atoz, a fashion designer with emphathic botox. Wiig is delightful in the role, delivering a hilarious performance tailored whole-heartedly in the name of mocking the overuse of plastic surgery in the elite fashion and beauty world. Benedict Cumberbatch turns heads in his portrayal of a non-binary model named All – a role which has caused somewhat of an uproar among the LGBTQ community (there’s even a petition to boycott the film here). I try not to get into these sensitive “PC” matters, but I’ll just say that I understand why the character All is included – the character is representative of all the confusion surrounding the changing tolerance culture. It’s quite difficult to be politically correct these days – if you say “Merry Christmas,” it’s offensive. Everything is offensive. So my view of All is the embodiment of this confusion – and that’s all I’ll say about that. Zoolander 2 does benefit from these eccentric characters, old and new alike (with the exception of a new love interest who’s literally only present for sex appeal), but they cannot overcome a weak script and poor direction.
Ben Stiller must have had a lot of ideas for subplots in the Zoolander sequel, and (un)lucky us – we get to see every single one of them. Suddenly, the male model is looking for his son, and then trying to deal with the fact that his son is a bit chubby; despite the fact that he learned in the first film that “there’s more to life than just being really, really good-looking.” Also, Hansel is dealing with daddy (or lack thereof) issues, while also having trouble with his orgy…relationship.
In addition to throwing around tangled, and irrelevant subplots, Stiller tries to cover up his dead plot with cheap pleas for laughter, and this takes a few forms. Namely, cameos. Twenty-nine cameos (see the full listing here). Not that it’s impossible to make a quality film with an abundance of cameos (ahem, This Is the End), but it is quite a challenge – one that’s out of reach for Zoolander 2. Also, Stiller puts in some elements that are completely unwarranted, unnecessary, and just don’t make sense – the ghost of Zoolander’s wife, for example.
Towards the end of the film, the plot just all together gives up. It seems that even the writers themselves realized what a mess they’d made, and just opted to forgo rationality altogether. Zoolander 2 could have been a fantastic sequel, a return to the comedy that won itself a cult following in 2001 – but unfortunately, the film is just another sloppily-scrawled title on the long list of catastrophic sequels, right next to Jaws 2.