Earlier this week, I was discussing with a friend our respective favorite films, and said friend mentioned that she would put Ben Stiller’s Zoolander (2001) in her top three favorites. Her rationale wasn’t that it’s a great piece of cinema, but that it makes her laugh and she enjoys it. And it is a good movie — specifically a fun one, surprising and goofy yet intelligent and occasionally pointed — and there’s a lot to be said for that, specifically in the notion that movies can simply be good. Cinema as art is obviously something that should be striven for, but film can also be just entertaining — a quality I think that’s harder to come by than one might first suspect. Not just from the glut of serious award-bait that’s dreadfully boring, but from the rest of cinema’s unwashed masses.
Now, if you need proof of how difficult the simple act of entertainment can be, watch Zoolander 2. As fun and even vibrant as the original Zoolander is, Zoolander 2 is the exact opposite, a sort of masticated, decimated version of its predecessor. All the most terrible signs are there — the February release date, 15 years between films and the stench of desperation that creates — and somehow it’s all much, much worse than anyone imagined. The film finds our titular protagonist, legendary male supermodel and monumental numbskull, Derek Zoolander (Stiller), in hiding after the accidental death of his wife (Christine Taylor) and the apparent disfigurement of his best friend and fellow model Hansel (Owen Wilson). The plot kicks in when Derek and Hansel are lured out of retirement by a young, hip designer (Saturday Night Live’s Kyle Mooney) and promptly humiliated. Before skulking off, they’re recruited by Interpol agent — and one time swimsuit model — Valentina (Penelope Cruz) to help track down the person responsible for knocking off celebrities like Justin Bieber.
The film gets stuck in a rut of rehashing or simply referencing jokes from the first movie. The satire of the fashion industry, which helped prop up the first film, feels chintzy and pointless this time around. There’s a definite problem with Zoolander 2, where it falls into that sequel trap of thinking more is more. Since there were celebrities in the first Zoolander, there’s got to be even more celebrities this time around — a parade of famous people whose inclusion in the movie serve no purpose. This is perhaps the biggest indictment of the film, since the original had David Bowie, and now, in 2016, Zoolander 2 is stuck with Sting. Much of the movie just doesn’t feel fleshed out. People like Kristen Wiig and Benedict Cumberbatch are in it as actual credited characters, and they just disappear from the film. It’s all such a waste, not just of talent, but of the original film. All this time and energy placed in a movie that made me laugh just three times — and I’ve already forgotten two of the jokes. Rated PG-13 for crude and sexual content, a scene of exaggerated violence, and brief strong language.