Another year, another sequel to a cult-favorite comedy. 15 years after Zoolander served as a light and silly comedy to help people laugh again, following the 9/11 tragedy that occurred weeks earlier, we now have Zoolander 2, which is severely lacking in laughs. The film is full of cameos and gags, but the idea of making things bigger and wilder only goes so far when the foundation is so weak and the jokes are so dull.
To the first film’s credit, co-writer/director Ben Stiller found a way to incorporate some interesting social commentary, while satirizing celebrity and fashion culture. I may not be the biggest fan of the first Zoolander, but it was a film that had some substance to go with its silliness. Not so much the case this time around, as Zoolander 2 is so devoid of purpose that it only seems fitting the characters reach multiple points of raising their hands to the sky and asking what their purpose is.
This sequel gets off to a promising start by making reference to a disastrous 2001 event, which turns out to be the destruction of the ‘Derek Zoolander Center for Kids Who Can’t Read Good and Who Wanna Learn to Do Other Stuff Good Too’. Given the first film’s release date, this seemed like a setup for a comedy with possible edge lurking beneath, but alas, that was not the case. Derek Zoolander (Stiller) goes into hiding and the film picks up years later by throwing him into a new conspiracy that appears to be oddly forgotten about midway through the film.
With returning writers Stiller and John Hamburg (I Love You Man, Meet The Parents), along with Justin Theroux (Tropic Thunder) and Nick Stoller (The Muppets), it seemed as if all sorts of material relating to the fashion industry and American pop culture could have been skewered in a hilarious manner. Sadly, this collective of talented individuals, let alone the featured players seen on screen, fail to really capitalize on their potential. Instead, the film largely repeats a lot of the broader beats that worked the first time around, but subtracts the goofy heart that allowed for great appeal.
In a different world Stiller’s previous directorial effort, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, could have been a bigger hit and led to a more interesting follow-up project. Instead, we have him revisiting one of his more popular comedies and the results feel uninspired, regardless of how much enthusiasm there seems to have been in the build up to this release.
As opposed to being more like Anchorman 2, which had (Best Director nominee) Adam McKay challenging himself with a stronger narrative, Zoolander 2 has a lot more in common with Dumb and Dumber To. The same basic concept is delivered, the narrative is largely the same, with the exception of location changes and everyone looks older, with other things on their mind.
Even from a directorial standpoint, this film comes up lacking. No, Zoolander 2 did not need to show the same ambition found in ‘Walter Mitty’, but even Tropic Thunder had a sense of scale that really found Stiller pushing himself. Heck, Zoolander even made fun use of split-screens and a mood that captured the satirical nature of the story he was in. This film takes place in Rome, but never does much to capture the city or much of anything related to fashion, beyond some obvious sight-gags.
From a performer standpoint, you have to thank Will Ferrell for coming back, as he single-handedly saves this film from being completely devoid of good jokes. He may only enter during the final half hour, but his comic energy was such a relief, following 2/3rds of a film that only garnered mild chuckles at most. Everyone else does what they can.
Stiller and Owen Wilson have certainly honed the idiocy of their characters, though the jokes involving them saying something dumb and then explaining why it’s so dumb wore me down in the first film, just as it does here. Penelope Cruz has little to do beyond supply exposition, until the third act, where it’s basically too late to make more of an impact. Kristen Wiig certainly wins an award for the most ridiculous faces in a film that capitalizes off of weird looks, but I can only hope this summer’s Ghostbusters makes better use of her talents.
Did I mention this film is cameos galore? Much like DreamWorks Animation’s use of pop culture humor in their lesser films to land an impact related to their release date, it will be interesting to see how Zoolander 2 ages over time. With that in mind, a lot of people show up and do what they can. Of all of them, it was most shocking to think about the amount of money spent on a one-not joke regarding Fred Armisen’s head digitally placed onto a child’s body.
There’s a logic that suggests if you liked the first film, then the sequel should appeal to you as well. As mentioned, I’m not the biggest fan of the first film, but I would be hard-pressed to say huge Zoolander fans are going to absolutely adore this sequel either. With a lack of ambition, no real edge and jokes falling flat far more than they hit, Zoolander 2 walks the runway in shame.