Movie Information

Genre: Comedy
Director: Ben Stiller
Starring: Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson, Christine Taylor, Will Ferrell, Jerry Stiller
Rated: PG-13

Any movie in which the male lead decides he’s possibly in love with the leading lady after seeing her in an orgy “sandwiched in between those two Finnish dwarves and that Maori tribesman” is OK by me. Actually, just about everything in Ben Stiller’s Zoolander is OK by me. Like the recent Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, Zoolander proves that a silly, bad-taste comedy about terminally stupid people does not have to succumb to terminal stupidity itself. Indeed, both films should be required viewing for the makers of Freddy Got Fingered, Pootie Tang, Scary Movie 2 and other recent cinematic marvels of that nature. Sure, the movie has very little real substance, and more than a few of the gags aren’t as funny as they think they are. But none of its 89 minutes are dull, and the gags come tumbling out so fast that the ones that don’t quite work aren’t around long enough to detract from the overall silly fun. The film is the outgrowth of a skit Stiller and cowriter Drake Sather cooked up for the 1996 VH-1 Vogue Fashion Awards. Stiller plays male supermodel Derek Zoolander, a character dumber than a 150-pound bag of styling gel, who decides — after being dethroned as male model of the year by newcomer Hansel (Owen Wilson, Meet the Parents) — that he’s “pretty sure there’s more to life than just being really, really good looking.” He sets out to find out just what that is. Unfortunately for him, he doesn’t really fit in with his coal-mining family (headed up by Jon Voight), who are less than delighted by his claims of having black lung after one day in the pits, and embarrassed by his appearance as a merman on a TV commercial viewed in their local bar. Worse, the dark forces of the fashion industry — headed up by Jacobim Mugatu (Will Ferrell, TV’s Saturday Night Live) — needs someone to assassinate the new prime minister of Malaysia, who is threatening to ruin the industry by implementing child-labor laws. Since Fabio (who also appears in the film) has been ruled out as being “too smart,” it naturally follows that Derek is the logical choice for the job. As the convoluted plot unfurls, Derek’s agent, Maury Ballstein (Stiller’s father, comedian Jerry Stiller) of Balls Models, reluctantly agrees to sacrifice his stupid but sweet star model to the cause. Derek is subsequently brainwashed to assassinate the prime minister when he hears a certain cue. Unfortunately for the bad guys, investigative reporter Matilda Jeffries (played by Stiller’s real-life wife, Christine Taylor) becomes suspicious and the pair learn the truth from a retired “hand model” (David Duchovny), who reveals that the fashion industry has been behind every political assassination for 200 years. It’s all goofy and surprisingly clever with more guest stars — ranging from a bit with Stiller’s mother, Anne Meara, throwing an egg at Mugatu to an elaborate and hysterical sequence with David Bowie judging a showdown “walk-off” between Derek and Hansel — than you’ll probably be able to spot. Breathlessly energetic, the movie does manage to get in some pretty barbed comments on the fashion industry and the shallow, mindlessness with which its trends and manufactured heroes are absorbed by the public — but never at the expense of the fun. Strangely, some critics are attacking the film as irresponsible and tasteless for its assassination plot, which is granting the film considerably greater weightiness than it possesses — despite the fact that Zoolander has been deemed “unsuitable” for screening in Malaysia (joining the curious ranks of the similarly “unsuitable” Schindler’s List and The Spy Who Shagged Me). In reality, Zoolander is mostly a string of outrageous and inventive gags that tend to genuinely work, making it a smart, savvy and funny 90 minutes at the movies.

About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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