Sunday, February 21, 2016

'Zoolander 2' review

It has been nearly 15 years since Zoolander first graced the screens of cinemas around the world and introduced us to the world of high fashion dominated by Hansel, Mugatu, and the iconic Derek Zoolander. The film wasn't a massive hit in any sense of the word- it made $45.1 million off a $28 million budget, with meager worldwide returns. But somehow, just like Will Ferrell's news media satire Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, Zoolander gained new life on home video and expanded to wider audiences. Mix that in with the mythic bit of trivia that Ben Stiller's male model flick was the first comedy to open in the aftermath of the horrific 9/11 terror attacks, and you have something of a cult classic. It's one of those movies where its cultural impact is probably better than the film itself. It's a funny movie, but I never was one to really clamor for a sequel (I've always been rooting for an Austin Powers 4 as my comedy guilty pleasure). Nonetheless, after over a decade, the rabid fans finally got what they asked for- Zoolander 2 has arrived.

And man, it really sucks. There's no other way to put it. I can't even think of a way to justify the mess that is Zoolander 2. There's no "Well, it's a bit of a mess, but I laughed quite a bit!" Nope. In addition to failing as a piece of filmmaking, it's also completely devoid of laughs. For a while, Zoolander 2 rides on the coattails of the original. After all, Derek and Hansel are great characters and witnessing the complete downfall that occurred after the end of the original is pretty entertaining. But as it moves on, the plot slows down and the air is literally sucked out of the film. Not even a mildly engaging appearance by Will Ferrell in the final act can generate many laughs and it all just feels rather flat. We've seen worse movies in 2016 already, but chalk Zoolander 2 up as the first major disappointment.

After opening with the murder of Justin Bieber, Zoolander 2 flashes back and views the last fifteen years in the history of Derek, Hansel and the other characters that featured prominently in the original film. And unfortunately, things haven't necessarily gone very well for these guys. Only a few short days after it opened, The Derek Zoolander Center for Kids Who Can't Read Good and Who Wanna Learn to Do Other Stuff Good Too completely collapsed, killing Zoolander's wife, Matilda Jeffries (Christine Taylor) and permanently damaging Hansel's face. In the years after, Derek's life fell apart quicker than the poorly structured building- he lost his son, Derek Jr., to child services and quit the modeling industry. Hansel moved to a remote area of California to enjoy a series of orgies, and Derek became a recluse in the snowy depths of New Jersey.

Nearly a decade later, the industry will come knocking again. With the help of Billy Zane (playing himself), the two models resume their career under the eye of hipster designer Don Atari (Kyle Mooney). But while Derek and Hansel have stayed the same, the modeling game has changed drastically- the ambiguously gendered All (Benedict Cumberbatch in a hilarious extended cameo) dominates the stage, causing the two veterans to be labeled as washed-up. And yet, there's more going on than the clueless former stars know. Interpol Agent Valentina (Penelope Cruz) has uncovered a possible conspiracy to kill the world's most beautiful people, and Derek may be the one to connect it all together. So they all get together to save the world. I think. I don't really care. And I don't think the movie does either.

If that plot synopsis didn't make sense, well, don't expect much more from the movie. I tried my best to put the bizarrely sprawling plot into a cohesive summary, but it just can't be done. Oh, and I didn't even get to the plot about Zoolander's reconciliation with his long-lost son (Cyrus Arnold), the ancient prophesy proposed by Sting, Kristen Wiig's modeling titan Alexanya Atoz, or the arrival of Zoolander's nemesis Mugatu (Will Ferrell). Zoolander 2 has so many moving parts, and it results in a plot that relies on celebrity cameos as its connective tissue. The weirder it got, the less convinced I was that director Ben Stiller and the four credited screenwriters knew what they were doing or even really believed in the story that they were telling.

But that's okay, right? A good plot isn't necessarily a benchmark for comedic success. Funny movies have had messy, lackluster plots before and still worked as laugh riots. And this is where the desperately unfunny Zoolander 2 hits a wall. It cannot earn a laugh to save its life. It throws the gauntlet on the screen in an attempt to make the audience laugh. The situations are increasingly absurd, the plot is absolutely ludicrous, and the lineup of celebrity cameos is never-ending- Olivia Munn, Susan Sarandon, Joe Jonas, Demi Lovato, Lenny Kravitz, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Susan Boyle, A$AP Rocky and even more. And yet, it still can't conjure up much comedic magic. Sure, I might have chuckled one or two times. They were bound to get a few hits in there. And yet, for much of the runtime, Zoolander 2 feels like it's stretching every inch of itself to create something that simply is not there.

It's stunning to me that a group of such talented people came together to create a movie that is so totally out of tune. And I'm not talking about the actors. Good actors have made bad movies before, it's nothing new there. And anyways, most of the principle players are relatively solid in the film. Ben Stiller's Zoolander is still a terrific screen creation, despite the fact that there's nearly nothing to work with this time around. Seeing the nitwit male model interact with Owen Wilson's Hansel again is a lot of fun, and they actually have some decent chemistry with Penelope Cruz, wasted in a supporting role. And we haven't even talked about Will Ferrell yet. If the rest of the movie wasn't such a disaster, Ferrell would emerge as the film's third act savior. Mugatu steals every moment on screen- he commands any attention and goodwill that the audience has left by the film's overblown and confusing conclusion.

With such a talented core of actors, it's ultimately the writers who screw this one up. Four writers (!) are credited on Zoolander 2- Justin Theroux, Ben Stiller, John Hamburg and Nicholas Stoller. The fact that they've all turned in some stellar output in the past makes it all the more disappointing. Zoolander 2 ultimately feels like a constant clash between a bunch of different styles and tones that just never emerges as one clear, focused vision. It honestly seems that at a certain point, Stiller and the other writers just gave up any sense of cohesion and put the rest of the film on autopilot. The pacing drags, the subplots build up, and there's a real sense of "Ah, screw it," that runs throughout the entirety of the film.

Failing to generate a solid laugh for most of the runtime, Zoolander 2 is completely dead on arrival. Maybe it was just too late, or maybe something went really wrong during production, but whatever the case, this is a movie that simply doesn't work. It isn't as blatantly cliched as Ride Along 2 or as disgustingly gasp-inducing as Dirty Grandpa. And yet, purely by the virtue that it isn't funny, Zoolander 2 almost manages to be as bad as those two cinematic disasters. Films like this make my job relatively easy- there's not much to criticize at all. It's just a bad movie that doesn't work.

THE FINAL GRADE:  D+                                           (4.5/10)

Image Credits: Variety, Forbes, Screen Rant, Telegraph, Joblo

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