When a hit movie doesn’t get a sequel for more than 14 years, one is tempted to believe it’s because they were waiting until they came up with a good idea for one. After all, if they were content to deliver a mediocre cash-grab, they’d have struck while the iron was still hot, right?
Alas, the idea behind “Zoolander 2” seems to have been, “What if we made a sequel to ‘Zoolander’?” (“And?” “No, that’s it.”) Again directed by Ben Stiller, who shares screenwriting credit with Justin Theroux, Nicholas Stoller, and John Hamburg, this creaky, stumbling follow-up begins with the assassination of Justin Bieber but quickly goes downhill.
A montage of fake news coverage fills us in on what’s happened since the events of the first film. Once-legendary model Derek Zoolander (Stiller) has been in exile since the death of his wife (Christine Taylor) and the removal of his son (Cyrus Arnold) from his custody. His former best friend, Hansel (Owen Wilson), suffered a career-ending facial injury that sent him into hiding, too (not alone; he married all the participants of an orgy he once had).
Derek and Hansel are reunited when they’re summoned to Rome by a new fashionista, Alexanya Atoz (a virtually unrecognizable Kristen Wiig), who needs them for a show. Also involved, somehow, is Interpol’s Fashion Division, headed by buxom agent Valentina Valencia (Penelope Cruz), who’s investigating a series of pop-star murders that involve one of Derek’s patented facial expressions. Previous villain Mugatu (Will Ferrell), currently incarcerated in Fashion Prison, is a factor as well.
The film shows promise early on as Derek and Hansel discover how much the fashion world has changed since 2001, rendering them obsolete. SNL’s Kyle Mooney is funny
as a grungy, ironic designer who loves awful things; Benedict Cumberbatch plays a pretentious un-gendered model named All; and Fred Armisen appears as an 11-year-old child named Vip. (Putting Armisen’s head on a kid’s body must have been absurdly expensive in relation to how funny it is … which itself makes it funnier to me.) These characters in particular confuse and frighten our heroes, who are too dumb to understand irony or gender-fluidity.
But before long, the film settles into a rut. It becomes an aimless series of weak gags predicated on Derek using the wrong words for things (“Tyrannosaurus” for “thesaurus”; “laughing stick” for “laughingstock”), or on his and Hansel’s vanity and general thickheadedness. It’s the same ground covered by the first film, only now with less originality. And it’s all in the service of a plot that is somehow both overcomplicated and nonsensical, packed with a genuinely impressive number of mostly non-laugh-producing celebrity cameos. They should have cranked this out in 2003 and been done with it.
(Note: I gave the original “Zoolander” an A. I was more promiscuous with my A grades in those days. Subsequent viewings put it in the B range. I doubt “Zoolander 2” will get a subsequent viewing at all.)
C- (1 hr., 42 min.; )