Director: Ben Stiller
Stars: Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson
2 (out of 5) Globes
There are scores of jokes in “Zoolander 2” about its own irrelevance. It knows it’s ridiculous to make a very, very belated sequel to the original, which came out so long ago that the children who were entering first grade then are about to start paying back their college debt. There are no jokes, however, about it being a standard-issue lazy sequel —the kind that brings back the stuff that worked for a tired retread while adding little that’s new. It represents a strange trend in movies, most recently embodied by “Dirty Grandpa”: the terrible movie that embraces its own crapulence — and, occasionally, lets its creative paucity curdle into the genuinely weird.
Released in 2001, the first “Zoolander” was spotty but with fits of inspiration:the kind of comedy where a handful of strong bits helped one forget the surrounding mediocrity. The best found Ben Stiller’s knuckle-scraping model enjoying a Wham!-backed jaunt on the town, which inexplicably turned into a gasoline fight, with fiery results. That segment gets a callback in “Zoolander 2,” and naturally it’s nowhere near as funny. Ditto the return of Billy Zane (again, as himself, in his first prominent Hollywood film since 2005’s “BloodRayne”), the return of felled fashionista baddie Mugatu (Will Ferrell) and another leftfield music god cameo. The original boasted a walk-on from David Bowie; this one gets Sting, which charitably sums up the step-down in quality.
And yet what “Zoolander 2” lacks in creativity —with not a single stand-alone moment that will live on as a YouTube clip —it occasionally almost makes up for in super-weirdness. No, not the probably transphobic spectacle of Benedict Cumberbatch, with no eyebrows, as a genderless model flying winged over a runway. (OK, that does sound gonzo.) Here’s a movie that kicks off with a 9/11 joke, crafts a dense and bizarre mythology about models and ends with one character dating Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai. You can (and should) groan at the non-stop vomiting up of big name cameos fitted with easy jokes, but mild props must go to giving the final word to Neil deGrasse-Tyson.
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The plot is at once dumb and confusing, which may be a not-bad joke considering its two leads are morons. Rendered a hermit by the loss of his wife (real-life Stiller spouse Courtney Taylor), Derek Zoolander gets coaxed out of retirement by another evil and flamboyant designer (Kristen Wiig, unrecognizable under elaborate facial prosthetics, and back in alienating “SNL” character mode). The difference this round is Owen Wilson’s pretty boy Hansel gets little to do and the m.o. is to be a full-on Bond parody, though not a very good one nor one that cares about being good. Penelope Cruz, as a hotcha Interpol agent, is no comedic deity, but “Zoolander 2” is the kind of movie that makes her feel wasted.
Stiller (who again also directed) and his three cowriters regularly commit to comic bits that were never sound to begin with. Failing that they fall back on wacky characters, such as Justin Theroux as a foster school principal with a George Washignton wig, a big scar, an epic goatee, gold teeth and — what the hell? — dreds, too. It keeps on piling on silliness (and famous faces) in the hopes that quantity equals quality.
Like a stopped clock, sometimes it hits. Sometimes — as in a protracted bit about Hansel’s swelling brood of orgy partners, which includes some men, because men having sex with men is the joke — it does not. Eventually — and again, like “Dirty Grandpa” — the pure commitment to being stupid pays off in a way, as though assaulting viewers with failed jokes creates a form of Stockholm Syndrome. As the movie solders on, you might find yourself laughing, but you may never remember why. On the plus side, the use of 35mm — Stiller is one of the few filmmakers today who’s never directed digital — looks spectacular.
Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge