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Instead of Mocking Modern Fashion, 'Zoolander 2' Is Undone By It

Dumb can only take you so far, and Zoolander 2 proves that stupidity's shelf life is very short, indeed.


Zoolander 2

Director: Ben Stiller
Cast: Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson, Will Ferrell, Penélope Cruz, Kristen Wiig
Rated: PG-13
Studio: Paramount Pictures
Year: 2016
US date: 2016-02-12 (General release)
UK date: 2016-02-12 (General release)

It's time to tell the story of two sequels, dear readers, movies made years after their original hits demanded a cinematic revisit. On one side of the aisle is Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy. Made in 2004, it was a surprise smash, leading speculation that an update would be coming soon. Flash forward to 2013 and in that nine years, the characters only get better, the narrative bolder, and the jokes brasher. A complete and utter takedown of cable news and the 24 hour cycle, it's both a winking satire and scatological delight.

Then there's Dumb and Dumber. The film that launched Jim Carrey into the stratosphere of favored funnymen circa 1994, it survived a horrid prequel just to come back, 20 years later, as a complete and utter dud. The jokes die, the characters are cloying, and whatever charms the first movie provided got lost in a cloud of creative desperation that not even the original cast could save. It failed at the box office, highlighting that the Farrelly Brothers brand of gross out humor is best left to the Apatows and Deadpools of the world.

Now comes Zoolander 2, or 2oolander, or Zoolander No. 2, and with that last variations euphemism for feces in full effect, it's clear that the cult hit of 2001 (actually a box office dud which found significant new life on home video) is returning as a turd. Indeed, this incredibly lazy follow-up, trying to milk laughs out of the already self-satirizing insanity of the fashion world, relies on that ineffectual narrative device, the spy thriller, to gain the audience's affection. That worked out real well for such similar cinematic stinkers as Cars 2 and Mr. Bean's Holiday, didn't it?

This time around, our once fabulous and famous supermodel, Derek Zoolander (Ben Stiller) is in self-imposed exile after a pre-credits tragedy. Without warning, famous faces around the world -- cue an extended, unnecessary, and pointless parade of cameos -- are being killed off, all with his renowned "blue steel" pose frozen on their lips. An Interpol agent (Penelope Cruz) is assigned to the crimes, and she recruits Derek and his former rival/BFF Hansel (Owen Wilson) to fly to Rome and infiltrate the domain of fashion diva Alexanya Atoz (Kristin Wiig). Naturally, former nemesis Jacobim Mugatu (Will Ferrell) is somehow involved. Maybe.

As uninspired as it is unfunny, Zoolander 2 is validation that basing an entire second film on a previously one-note character is the height of commercial audacity. The studio suits want to believe you will buy it all up again. But just like the return of Harry and Lloyd, Derek and Hansel have gone from giddy to grating, turning their clueless act into something akin to a rejection of all that came before. Indeed, Zoolander 2 resets our appreciation, making one wonder what they saw in these loser lunkheads before. Fifteen years is just too long between single digit IQ jokes.

Besides, fashion is its own treasure trove of surreal individuals and outlandish ideas. Ever seen one of those gallery rundowns of the goofy looks billed as "high fashion" from the New York or Paris catwalk? Those are far more entertaining and comical than this film. Stiller has the directing chops and he hasn't aged enough to make Derek a complete disaster, but a comedy is supposed to make you laugh. Zoolander 2 just makes you sigh in disgruntled disbelief. Sure, seeing celebrities mock their notoriety for a proposed lark is kind of interesting, but once the "plot" kicks in, a pile of A-listers couldn't save this mess.

Remember the controversy that surrounded Benedict Cumberbatch's questionable Trans model named All? The trailers suggested the film was about to make fun of one of the more sensitive subjects in the social discourse. Well, there really was no need to worry. The four (that's a quartet) of screenwriters have no idea how to either mock the subject or spoof our main character's insensitivity.

Instead, Cumberbatch shows up, the gags die, and then All disappears, never to be seen again. That happens a lot in Zoolander 2. Things happen, people show up, and then as soon as they start to make an impression, they exit off screen and into the oblivion of this film's pointlessness.

Indeed, it's hard to image how this movie could have worked. This is 2016. We have fashion infused in almost every aspect of life. Designers are making millions off of tweaking everyday objects, all with a goal of getting their latest line into retail outlets like Target and Bed, Bath and Beyond. Somewhere, on some cable TV channel, a high strung stylist is having a meltdown over the wrong fabric swatches. Looks change at the drop of a remote, and former icons are flailing away at trying to remain relevant in a global dynamic. And all Zoolander 2 can come up with is a variation of 1978's Whose Killing the Great Chefs of Europe?

Humor has a shelf life. What was funny a decade and a half ago may no longer hold the same wit weight. Zoolander 2, like the dire Dumb and Dumber sequel before, is proof that, sometimes, it's better to let the past stay right where it's at. Trying to bring it up to now only shows how dated the original was.

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