Ben Stiller‘s approach to round two of the Zoo is akin to chucking a baby bird from the nest to see if it will fly or plummet, only to discover a 25-pound lead weight secured to said birdling’s ankle bits. No scene demonstrates this better than when Hansel (Owen Wilson), in an attempt to elicit Derek’s (Stiller) magical modeling stopping power, is throwing objects at the now-out-of-fashion Derek Zoolander. Failing to summon the “fire” that stopped Mutagatu’s (Will Ferrell) M-shaped throwing star and saved the Malaysian Prime Minister all those years back, each progressively larger prop strikes Zoolander’s duck-face curtly in the sucker. By object four or five, a tasty-looking bottle of Reposado that acts as an accidental stand-in for the cockeyed audience, Zoolander cries out, “This just isn’t working.” No Ben Stiller, it really, really isn’t.
There are a vast number of moments like this in Zoolander 2 where the characters seem to actively acknowledge the mess they have found themselves in. That mess being the movie itself, not the zany half-assed situations that screenwriters Justin Theroux, Nicolas Stoller, John Hamburg and Stiller have cooked up. One of which reinvents the origins of man and woman and supermodel; the respective descendants of Adam, Eve and (sigh) Steve. But back to our character’s dejected state reflecting the movie at large. Hansel and Derek lament their lack of relevance. Check. They battle their crippling lack of intelligence. Check. They acknowledge they are the butt of the joke, not in on it. Check. From one scenario to another, the two clueless models suffer, a galaxy’s distance from one iota of wit, charm or skill. This is Zoolander 2 in a nutshell.
Plot-wise, the thing is a gas. Less in a “fun way” than in a “working in the coal mine and the canary’s croaking due to toxic levels of carbon monoxide” kind of way. From go, the air is sucked out of the room by a series of insipid gags befitting a Jason Friedberg, Aaron Seltzer feature. Picture a bearded Zoolander tucked away in some snow-sacked tundra. A caption labels in “Extreme Northern New Jersey”. Living a self-imposed exile as a “hermit crab”, he’s egged to rejoin the now-changed world of high fashion by Billy Zane (who plays himself) so that he can win back his now-orphaned son. Side note, Derek’s wife Matilda (Christine Taylor) tragically perished when his structurally short-sighted ‘The Derek Zoolander Center For Kids Who Can’t Read Good And Wanna Learn To Do Other Stuff Good Too’ collapsed. Because Derek Zoolander, who apparently had a hand in drafting up blueprints, constructed his learning center from actual Popsicle sticks and actual superglue. I’ll let that sink in for just one more second. Moving on. Convinced that new life awaits him away from this blistering misanthropic recluse, he phones an Uber. Some audience members chuckled seemingly by instinctual impulse alone.
Paramount would have to funnel in actual laughing gas to make some of the gags work. Like when Derek and Hansel find themselves the target of an oversized prune bath at the hands of apathetic hipster fashionista Don Atari (Kyle Mooney). Or when an overtly CGI-ed Fred Armistan plays a precocious, fashion-forward 12-year old with a lopsided bowl cut for some inexplicable reason. Or when Derek Zoolander climbs aboard Penelope Cruz, affixing himself to the bulbous breastoids that forced her out of the modeling world and into law enforcement, so that she can swim him across an ocean like a dolphin at Mach 10 speeds. Seriously, these things happen.
Experiencing Zoolander 2 is living Episode 1 all over again. You just don’t want to believe that it could be possible to have such a bold-faced lampooning of something you hold dearly but, no, the nightmare is real. In many ways, Zoolander 2 is the Jar Jar Binks of comedy movies; never much more than one hoof print away from another stack of bantha fodder; perpetually willing to play the clown even when treated with disquieting stares of agony. “Mesa clumsy” is right.
What I keep returning to is the fact that it has been 15 years of waiting and posturing and fan promises and this is what they settle on. 15 years of mulling over ideas, rejecting scripts, plotting and replotting. 15 years of shaping and sculpting, manicuring and primping. 15 years. For this. The only fitting analogy would be to imagine entering a nail saloon with slightly overgrown cuticles only to emerge two months later with your fingers sanded down to sanguine-seeping stubs. It’s barbary, Fleet Street style.
Though Zoolander 2 would hardly be the first to botch a comedic follow-up, it makes recent long-awaited sequels like Dumb and Dumber To and Anchorman 2 look brilliant by comparison. This sequel is a frankly barbarous addition to the the Zoolander legacy in that it spoils the fun of the first by piggybacking on the original jokes until they’re crushed beyond recognition, like a meerkat pounded into oblivion by a rhinoceros in heat. Cruz’s character for instance gets her own center with a long-winded, nonsensical title.
The original Zoolander had hurdles of its own to cross and found itself hamstrung on release by a little thing called 9/11. Let’s just say the U.S. of A. wasn’t in a laughing mood a few weeks after the twins took their bow and its September 28th opening saw a weak $15 million cume. Upon its home release, the fashion-world farce became a certifiable cult classic, inspiring legions of followers and fans who praised all things gasoline-fight and Magnum-related. But Zoolander didn’t win over those fans with lame-brained pop culture references or hedged-in cameos. Sure, they were a part of the fabric of the film but barely defined it. This shitquel on the other hand depends entirely upon it’s flavor-of-the-month innuendos and a host of undeserved, unabashed cameo appearances.
Neil Degrasse Tyson, Sting, Katy Perry, Justin Beiber, Benedict Cumberbatch’s vaguely intolerant trans character “All” (*shudders*). They’re all filler, propped up to add minutes to a film that desperately reaches for that 90 minute mark. Keifer Sutherland as a pregnant orgy participant (guys, seriously, welcome to Zoolander 2) is perhaps one of the funniest part of the movie due to the 24 actor selling such blatant stupidity with such committed deadpan. Time to stop and think again: Jack Bauer is the baby-daddy to Hansel’s child. And that‘s maybe the best part of the movie! Clearly this kind of comedy can work under the right circumstances – and already did once before – but the sheer laziness and aggressively mirthlessness of Zoolander 2 proves absolutely crushing.
To mix in one last food and poo metaphor, Zoolander is like a jelly doughnut; it’s not great for you but it’s pretty to look at and when you squeeze it there’s a remarkable ratio of raspberry-flavored (or orange mocha fraccuccino-flavored as it were) fun inside. Zoolander 2 is like someone squeezed that doughnut goo onto Main Street on a particularly hungover Saturday morning, where it landed jelly-side-down in a pile of bum pubes, all before a stray hound unleashed a hot stream of buttery diarrhea to fashion a sick cherry on top. The first Zoolander was a farce. This is its FUPA. A double-decker pileup of uninspired dribble seated firmly atop a non-starting non-idea. There’s nothing more to it than a bunch of celebrities half-heartedly mugging at the camera, the scripts in their hands devoid of but a single worthwhile joke.
CONCLUSION: Fans of Zoolander, beware. ‘Zoolander 2’ is so vomitously dumb, so affrontively underwritten and so actively bad that it just might make your affection for the original evaporate. Ben Stiller sets the bar for comedy sequels to the lowest wrung possible with this feckless fashion world parody that could easily be mistaken for a Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer spoof movie.