“Zoolander 2” Movie Review


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     As I have discussed before at length, comedy sequels can be a tricky endeavor.  When a studio sees box office success in a new film, the tendency is not only to green light a sequel, but also to recreate exactly what made the original a hit, even if that means essentially making the same movie all over again.  And there’s a litany of examples to choose from when determining which franchises are guilty of this, with two immediately coming to mind in “The Hangover 2” and “Anchorman 2”.  Now, some fifteen years after the original went on to achieve a sort of cult status on DVD, Ben Stiller returns to both the director’s chair and the title role in “Zoolander 2”, a sequel that actually departs from the first film’s roots and plays more like an internationally flavored action comedy in the tradition of the “Austin Powers” movies.  This is a good thing since a mere rehash of the plot elements from “Zoolander” done in order to introduce the character to a new generation of movie goers likely would’ve been a disaster.

     Because fashion trends change with the wind, Ben Stiller, along with screenwriters Justin Theroux (“Tropic Thunder”), Nicholas Stoller (“Get Him to the Greek”), and John Hamburg (“Zoolander”) already know their two lead characters, Derek Zoolander (Ben Stiller) and Hansel (Owen Wilson) will need to evolve in order to become relevant in a story which has them reinserted into the fashion world now occupied by characters even more wild and outlandish than the first film had.  In the opening, we are treated to an appearance by Justin Bieber (playing himself), as he is chased through city streets by mysterious armed assailants on motorcycles.  When he is finally caught and meets his doom, Bieber sends out a final Instagram photo while seemingly using a signature Zoolander look from the past.  I say the past because our favorite really dumb, but exceptionally good looking male model has gone into hibernation after the tragic death of his wife, Matilda (Christine Taylor), and the subsequent loss of his son, Derek Jr. (Cyrus Arnold), after it was determined he was unable to properly care for him.  Apparently, Hansel also met with permanent disfigurement in an incident deemed Zoolander’s fault and has gone into hiding as well.

     This is until the head of a massive fashion empire sends Billy Zane (playing himself) to locate the former male model duo and invite them to participate in a show being held in Rome.  Once reacquainted, they meet Alexanya Atoz (Kristen Wiig), a hilariously cooky caricature of a fashion icon, who seems to be part Lady Gaga and part Lisa Marie’s Martian Girl in “Mars Attacks!” as she floats from place to place in the kind of eye popping garb that can only be described as over the top.  But that’s what this film is all about and the characters Stiller has created here relish every opportunity to push the envelope in both their look and delivery, as Benedict Cumberbatch’s unisex model “All” certainly proves.  As the female lead and Zoolander love interest, Penelope Cruz hams it up as a fashion police agent investigating the connection between the murder of several notable pop stars who all posted a photo of themselves in their final moments imitating Zoolander’s signature facial expressions.  All of which of course leads to a Dr. Evil like plot constructed by none other than Mugatu (Will Ferrell) in which he seeks the chosen one who is said to be the key to the Fountain of Youth, or something like that.

     Truth be told, the story doesn’t matter much since the levels of plausibility sink far below the norm early on, leaving us to revel in the consistent and mostly amusing silliness of the characters.  Ferrell, with his signature brand of all out zaniness, plays best when his characters are allowed to operate in an environment that knows no boundaries, while also allowing for a healthy dose of his immense improvisational skills.  “Zoolander 2” is such a canvas and the results are significantly more fulfilling, comically speaking, than the films he appears in which are more grounded in reality, such as last year’s “Daddy’s Home”.  Furthermore, the writing adds plenty to some hilarious exchanges between Zoolander and Mugatu, as well as the interactions between all of the other characters.  It’s amazing how dumb these people are, and yet how engaging some of the best bits can be.

     Like most comedies of this kind, there are certainly a number of dead spots where the jokes intended to be funny fall completely flat, with some of them even feeling unnecessary.  But there’s enough here from the leads, along with several notable surprises, to keep even the most cynical of audience members engaged.  Even more impressive is the work by production designer Jeff Mann (“Transformers”), set decorator Lucy Eyre (“Guardians of the Galaxy”), and costume designer Leesa Evans (“Trainwreck”), as they have outdone themselves with the design and creation of several impressive sets and the clothing those occupying them wear throughout.  The amount of color and vibrancy combined with a modern reality television like tone successfully sets the stage for the various antics by all involved, but one can’t help to wonder if the entire production simply carbon copied the template used for the “Austin Powers” sequel “Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me”.  Every character seems to fit that mold, as does the overriding action film tendencies of the story.  But at least Stiller and his team looked to expand these characters into new territory by exploring new themes (like the acceptance of plus size models within the industry), when the easier route would’ve been simply updating the original and rehashing the best and most memorable scenes as is so often the case.  GRADE: B-