Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 42 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Crude and Sexual Content, a scene of Exaggerated Violence, and brief Strong Language
Directed by: Ben Stiller
Written by: John Hamburg, Ben Stiller, Nick Stoller & Justin Theroux
Starring: Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson, Will Ferrell, Penelope Cruz, Kristen Wiig, Christine Taylor & Benedict Cumberbatch
2001’s ZOOLANDER has a special place in my heart. It’s a movie that I constantly watched throughout my high school years and I still occasionally quote it with friends today. A sequel wasn’t necessarily a bad idea as the original cast of characters have been reassembled (with a couple of new additions) for another over-the-top story of deadly inner workings behind the fashion industry. Ben Stiller was still at the helm in directing this follow-up and the production values are as good as ever. So, why does ZOOLANDER 2 come off as extremely forgettable and disappointing? Sometimes, the simplest answer is the correct one. ZOOLANDER 2 suffers from being too little, too late.
Fifteen years have passed since the events of the first film and life has not been good to Derek Zoolander (Ben Stiller) or Hansel McDonald (Owen Wilson). In the aftermath of a horrible tragedy, Derek adopted a hermit lifestyle and a scarred Hansel developed an unhealthy relationship with his orgy partners. When both of these former friends/male models receive an invitation to do a fashion show in Italy, it appears that their careers have been reborn…until an Interpol agent (Penelope Cruz) recruits them to solve a mysterious chain of “beautiful people” murders (the latest victim being Justin Bieber). Derek Zoolander must bond with his estranged son, face a familiar villain from the past, and work with Hansel to uncover a bigger mystery at work.
Despite how ridiculous, stupid and juvenile it was (all positive qualities in the context of the original film), 2001’s ZOOLANDER had a coherent plot. There was a progression of events, development of characters, and lots of dumb laughs to be had as the story moved forward. ZOOLANDER 2 has a narrative mash that attempts to resemble a plot and keeps going off the rails into new storylines. The film’s trailers have already highlighted the return of Mugatu (Will Ferrell delivering the funniest scenes in the movie), but he doesn’t really come into play until the halfway point. Up until then, it’s Derek bonding with his son, flirting with Cruz’s Interpol agent, and trying to reinvigorate his faded career. The conclusion is also wildly all over the place in a bad way.
You don’t necessarily watch a movie like ZOOLANDER 2 for the plot though, right? Instead, you go in expecting lots of goofy humor, ridiculous scenes, and stupid characters. Well, ZOOLANDER 2 occasionally delivers on that front, but has long stretches where I was hoping for something remotely funny to occur. The bonding scenes between Derek and his son had potential to be hilarious, but instead they come off as old tired gags that have been seen in many other comedies. A story arc about Hansel’s constant orgies becomes tiring after its introduction. While this was a nod to a legitimately funny throwaway scene in the first film, it dominates nearly every Hansel moment in this sequel and seems forced.
ZOOLANDER 2 relies on entirely too many cameos as well. The first film had cameos, but placed them in a way that felt funny in the context of the story. This sequel overdoes it to an annoying degree. There are a number of spots where the pacing drags just to squeeze in a few more celebrities for the sake of including them. Even when the film isn’t packing in a ton of unnecessary famous faces, the pacing lags thanks to the unfocused script. New characters like Penelope Cruz’s Interpol agent and Kristen Wiig’s weird fashion designer are also wasted in not being given anything interesting to do.
This isn’t to say that all of ZOOLANDER 2 is entirely bland and unfunny. As mentioned before, Will Ferrell delivers the best moments in the film as the returning Mugatu (the pay-off to a prison confrontation made laugh pretty hard). The story also sets up a few strong scenes early on. There’s a clever montage filling us in on the details of what occurred after the first film. A running gag about a schoolmaster was probably my favorite joke of the entire film. Also, Justin Bieber gets killed by a machine gun (I have no complaints about that). Compared to recent comedy sequels, ZOOLANDER 2 isn’t nearly as bad as JOE DIRT 2 or HOT TUB TIME MACHINE 2, but is only marginally superior to DUMB AND DUMBER TO and TED 2. It seems like Ben Stiller and company tried too hard to recapture certain qualities from the first film and none of their chosen qualities were what made ZOOLANDER stand out among 2000’s comedies. Much like its titular male model, ZOOLANDER 2 feels like a washed-up has-been with occasional glimmers of talent.