Movie Review: “Zoolander 2”

Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson, Penelope Cruz, Will Ferrell, Kristen Wiig
Ben Stiller

Comedy sequels are tough. One of the few good recent examples, “Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues,” managed to keep the characters fresh, which is the key to a successful comedy sequel. But 15 years after the first “Zoolander,” is there still an appetite for these lovably dumb male models? And are they still even lovably dumb? In this sequel, once again directed by Ben Stiller, they are not.

The original film was a silly comedy that played on the conventions of conspiracy thrillers like “The Manchurian Candidate,” and it earned its status as a cult classic. “Zoolander” has aged well and isn’t going away anytime soon, but it’s unlikely that “Zoolander 2” will grow on audiences in the same way.

The sequel continues to play with the trappings of a conspiracy thriller. In the opening minutes, Justin Bieber is assassinated, setting up a “Da Vinci Code”-esque adventure that forces Derek (Stiller) and Hansel (Owen Wilson) to come out of retirement. The two went through a traumatic experience together shortly after the events of the first film. They haven’t spoken since the accident, but that all changes when they’re invited by incomprehensible fashion god Alexanya Atoz (Kristen Wiig) to participate in one of her shows. Once they get to the show, however, they’re treated like jokes. They are no longer the men they used to be, and all Derek wants is to prove to Child Services that he’s fit to raise his son.

The opening setpiece involving Bieber on the run is well done, and further proof of Stiller’s skills as a director. Few comedic directors make movies as cinematic as Stiller. The laughs aren’t always there, as is the case with “Zoolander 2,” but looking at earlier films like “The Cable Guy” and “Tropic Thunder,” he’s capable of matching the styles of the movies he’s emulating and poking fun at. At times, “Zoolander 2” is as flashy as the glossy mysteries it’s riffing on.

Unfortunately, Stiller has lost his charm in front of the camera, at least in the role of Derek Zoolander. The character could possibly still be very funny and the script just fails to live up to his potential, but in this outing, Derek and Hansel are more predictable and stale than funny and endearing. The male models have grown very little since the first film, which is honest and comical, but part of a larger problem, because we already know these characters inside and out. We also know how Stiller and his co-writers are going to structure their arcs and gags.

When you can see the end of a joke coming before it’s even begun, that’s a problem, and one that “Zoolander 2” often struggles with. Only when the film gets bizarre, like anytime Wiig and Will Ferrell (returning as Mugatu) share the screen together, does it deliver truly satisfying laughs. The rest of the movie goes through the motions, giving some audiences exactly what they want: tireless callbacks, too many cameos, etc.

The cameos, it must be said, are egregious. “Zoolander” has plenty of them too, but this sequel goes overboard, with non-actors killing any potential comic momentum in a scene every few minutes. A famous actor or fashion icon popping up in a movie about celebrities isn’t funny, especially when it happens this often. A lot of jokes get run into the ground in “Zoolander 2,” and while Stiller’s sequel isn’t without its moments, it fails to live up to its predecessor’s higher standards.