MOVIE REVIEW: ZOOLANDER No. 2
June 16, 2016
Time to call out the Fashion Police, Tim Gunn, Heidi Klum and Tyra Banks because while we have some "really, really ridiculously" hilarious voguing going on, ZOOLANDER No. 2 is missing a few signature pieces to really really "make it work" for the mainstream movie audience. That being said, however, when viewed within in its own contained universe resurrected by Ben Stiller after a 15-year absence, ZOOLANDER No. 2 is so politically (and fashionably) incorrect on so many levels that one can't help but bust at the seams with laughter.
To refresh your memories, Derek Zoolander and his runway rival Hansel, were last seen gracing the fashion runways of the world as a maniacal plot unfolded to brainwash Derek into assassinating the Malaysian prime minister. (Not being the brightest bulb in the box, brainwashing isn't that difficult a task.) Also joining in the madness and mayhem was the madman known as Mugatu. Since then, after a horrific disfiguring accident, Hansel has been orgy-ing to his heart's content, Derek has gone into self-imposed exile and Mugatu has been incarcerated in a fashion prison designed to look like a thimble. But something is afoot in the fashion world that beckons Derek and Hansel back to the runway, despite their misgivings.
As our story opens, a high-speed chase through the picturesque cobblestoned alleys of Rome fells a fleeing Justin Bieber in a hail of bullets. As he lay dying, he mumbles something and Instagrams a picture of himself, making the legendary "Blue Steel" look for which Derek has long been remembered. Interpol Fashion Division Chief Valentina Valencia recognizes the look on Bieber's lifeless face as the same one on other recently assassinated beautiful people like Bruce Springsteen, Demi Lovato, Lenny Kravitz, Madonna and more. Somehow, Derek Zoolander is involved with these murders. But how? And why?
Lured out of their respective seclusions by a world travelling Billy Zane delivering messages imploring them to return to the runway for fashion guru Alexanya Atoz, Derek and Hansel reconnect but now find Chief Valentina Valencia teaming up with them as she hopes to rip her murder investigation apart at the seams to get to the truth of these pretty people deaths.
Along the way, celebrity cameos abound, as well as tidbits that fill us in on what pushed Derek and Hansel out of the limelight. Derek still mourns the death of his wife Matilda and blames himself as it was his building, Derek Zoolander Center for Kids Who Can't Read Good and Wanna Learn to Do Other Stuff Good Too, that collapsed, killing her. Left alone with a son to raise, he lost custody of Derek Jr., who was spirited away to an orphanage (which, as luck would have it, is in Rome), sending Derek into seclusion in the northern wilds of New Jersey. And Hansel lives the fabulous life of a Bacchanalian orgy amid the dunes of Malibu, continually running away from the idea of commitment, even now, when all 12 of his lovers announce they are pregnant with his child.
Propelled by the espionage plot, Mugatu finally makes a fashionable appearance as does the somewhat pudgy, er husky, Derek Jr., distressing his father even more by his non-model appearance. Seems there is no love lost between Derek Jr. and his father, as the boy resents Zoolander for abandoning him and Zoolander is aghast at the fat fruit that has come from loins.
As story threads unwind, we slowly learn of the mystery behind the murders and a search for the illustrious Fountain of Youth which, of course, involves an assassination plot. As if adding an excessive amount of sequins and ostrich feathers, the climactic moments of the film explode with fashionista cameos from the likes of Valentino, Marc Jacobs, Vera Wang and yes, even, Anna Wintour.
Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson and Will Ferrell return in their signature roles of Zoolander, Hansel and Mugatu. As much as the performances are in step with the 2001 film which introduced them, they also feel dated and out of place in 2016. Much of the shtick from these three feels like recycled old hat. Ferrell fares the worst of the three, reducing Mugatu to nothing more than deafening shrieking. Also returning is Christine Taylor, now in angelic form as the deceased Matilda, and not looking a day older than she was in 2001.
Where ZOOLANDER No. 2 finds its footing is with Penelope Cruz who displays a great knack for comedy as Valentina Valencia. She can dead-pan with the best of them, making the dialogue sound sincere. A real break-out performance comes from Cyrus Arnold who more than holds his own as Derek Jr., infusing some real puberty angst into the performance.
Not to give away any spoilers, suffice to say, be on the lookout for some terrific comedic moments courtesy of Sting, Keifer Sutherland, Susan Sarandon, and a scene-stealing Kristen Wiig as the Donatella Versace tinged Alexanya Atoz. Under mounds of prosthetics and fabric, Wiig commands the screen and has one begging for more as she improperly pronounces every vowel she speaks only to add to the hilarious horror with over enunciation. (She equally grosses us out with the ugliest over-plumped lips on the planet). But perhaps the cheekiest and most entertaining performance comes from Benedict Cumberbatch as the androgynous, gender non-conformist superstar model known as All. "All is all." I laughed so hard at Cumberbatch, I had tears streaming down my cheeks. Cameos are interwoven from to beginning to end include M.C. Hammer, Susan Boyle, Tommy Hilfiger, Christiane Amanpour, Katie Couric, John Malkovich, Kate Moss, Joe Jonas and more. Memorable is a glorious cat-suit fight involving Milla Jovovich.
One cameo that I seriously have to question is that of Neil deGrasse Tyson as he tries to explain the cosmos and fashion in sequencing that while it looks beautiful thanks to a VFX cosmos background, doesn't gel. Why, Neil? Why?
Written by Ben Stiller, Justin Theroux, John Hamburg and Nicholas Stoller, nothing is off limits when it comes to political and social incorrectness where insults, put downs and plain old ignorance reign supreme. This is not for the faint-of-heart, prudish or easily offended. The script could have pushed the envelope even further in this regard. One liners abound, the bulk of which are guaranteed to garner a laugh, but which don't have a cohesiveness with the film as a whole. While hilarious, the laughter each garners is not for an overall theme or scene, but rather, individual lines and looks.
Sadly, the team wastes the strides of the fashion industry and its accessibility to the public over the past 15 years thanks to reality tv like "Project Runway" and "America's Top Model". I fully expected to see more timely and topical dialogue infused into the storyline as comedic bullet points, and am disappointed it's not. Similarly, in 2001, Stiller and company mocked the fashion world through the improbability of goofs like Derek and Hansel being the superstars of the business. That idea of fish out of water is what made "Zoolander" work and turned it into a cult classic. Still playing to that thematic thread, the premise joke doesn't play now thanks to social media and self-perceived fashionistas commanding headlines. What was and could have played as a subversive delight then, doesn't work now.
Directed by Stiller, the work is serviceable but not outstanding, save for the film serving as a compact travelogue for Rome as we see the Pantheon, the Baths of Caracalla (possibly the most interesting lensing of the film), Palazzo della Civilta, the Spanish Steps and Cinecitta Studios. Cinematographer Dan Mindel does, however, use color to its best advantage leading to rich saturation that is beyond pleasing to the eye while the lensing in the Baths is exquisitely done. Sight gags play extremely well and you'll find yourself wishing to see more of them. Keenly, Stiller lets those moments play unfettered.
Fashion is king in ZOOLANDER No. 2 thanks to costumer Leesa Evans who excels with the structurally unique and precarious outfits for Wiig's Atoz. A knockout piece is a white form-fitting jumpsuit worn by Penelope Cruz with a matching short trench, plus a rubber red jumpsuit, while Derek and Hansel are still rocking their looks of days gone by.
A real high point to ZOOLANDER No. 2 is the soundtrack which plays like the soundtrack of the 80's and 90's, chock full of Frankie Goes to Hollywood and WHAM!, then punctuated with new tracks and sounds of today.
Despite some loose threads and out-dated jokes, ZOOLANDER No. 2 is a seam-splitting laugh-out-loud funny ride. Just sit back, relax and just do it.
Directed by Ben Stiller
Written by Ben Stiller, Justin Theroux, John Hamburg and Nicholas Stoller
Cast: Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson, Will Ferrell, Penelope Cruz, Cyrus Arnold, Kristen Wiig, Sting, Billy Zane