Who could have predicted that opening a film with the gratuitously bloody and violent murder of Justin Bieber would be a bad idea? It sounds good on paper, and it’s certainly appealing in its execution, but it’s a smile-inducer that the rest of Zoolander 2 can’t match meaning it’s all downhill from there. Ben Stiller and friends find a handful of minor laughs across its belabored running time, but a reliance on recycled jokes and disconnected cameos leaves the film feeling outdated and desperate.
It’s been fifteen years since superstar male models Derek Zoolander (Stiller) and Hansel (Owen Wilson) foiled an attempted assassination masterminded by a malicious fashion icon named Mugatu (Will Ferrell), but time has not been kind to the duo. Zoolander has been in isolation after his Library for Kids Who Can’t Read Good and Who Wanna Learn to Do Other Stuff Good Too collapsed killing both his wife and his career. It also left Hansel horribly disfigured with a two centimeter-long scar on his cheek.
The two are willed back into the business through the power of Billy Zane, but they’ve barely walked a single runway before they discover another nefarious plot is brewing. Pop stars are dying, Zoolander and Hansel are no longer hip and cool, and Zoolander’s estranged son is – sadly and disgustingly – fat. Can they stop the killings? Will they find success in an industry that has passed them by? Can Zoolander learn to love his plus-sized son? It may surprise you how little you’ll care about any of the answers.
It’s never too late for a sequel (or a bad idea) it seems, but while some overdue follow-ups succeed at making a case for their existence – think Creed, Rambo, Psycho II – we more often than not end up with the likes of Dumb and Dumber To, Son of the Mask, and Blues Brothers 2000. Comedies seem to fare the worst when it comes sequels hitting screens decades later, and Stiller’s latest continues that trend by being unfunny, uninteresting, and unnecessary.
The story, such as it is, is scattered and unfocused as it jumps haphazardly between antagonists and subplots. The script (by Stiller, Justin Theroux, Nicholas Stoller, and John Hamburg) makes brief strides at exploring the idea of has-beens abandoned by their own pasts, but a jokes about Zoolander and Hansel being old and irrelevant aside it’s a topic left mostly unexplored. The intrigue regarding the pop stars expands to include an ancient prophecy of sorts, but it’s all thrown together with little thought or effort.
None of this would matter if the laughs were there as good comedy goes a long way towards making weak plotting forgivable, but the movie is far more of an anti-comedy. The film dates itself retroactively by returning to the Zoolander well again and again, but gags that worked in 2001 fall flat as retreads. Efforts to highlight Zoolander’s stupidity are repetitive and lazy – he refers to his self-isolation as being a hermit crab, a joke he makes three times. It never gets funnier.
It’s the cameos that make you wonder why it took four people to write the script – every other line must have read “Insert random hilarious cameo here.” The original film featured its share of recognizable faces (playing themselves or otherwise), but they felt part of the world being created. Here though they’re almost entirely pointless, random, and in some cases, woefully out of date. (Because seriously, Susan Boyle?)
Zoolander 2 manages a few laughs, and they come almost exclusively from Ferrell, a nearly unrecognizable Kristen Wiig, and – most surprisingly – Kiefer Sutherland as a member of Hansel’s polyamorous orgy squad. These are just a handful of moments though in a laborious, occasionally painful, and highly unfashionable 102 minutes.
The Upside: A few chuckles
The Downside: Weak jokes; endless stream of random cameos; lazy, unfocused story