MPAA Rating: PG-13 | Rating: ★½
Release year: 2016
Genre: Comedy Director: Stiller
There’s a scene in Zoolander 2 where Derek Zoolander (Ben Stiller) and his fashion buddy Hansel (Owen Wilson) are invited as special guests for an up-and-coming hipster’s fashion show. They emerge from makeshift coffins with fog and strobe lighting, wearing orange jumpsuits bearing the labels “Old” and “Lame.”
Those labels are perfect descriptions of this unnecessary sequel, an attempt in the recent filmic subgenre of Nostalgia. Nostalgia as a genre is when beloved films from the ’80s, ’90s, and early 2000s are either remade, rebooted, or reintroduced with a sequel in order to recapture audiences’ attention and dollars. Whether it’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or the upcoming Independence Day sequel, it almost doesn’t matter whether or not the film is well-made, as long as it evokes those wistful feelings of earlier, better times (y’know, the 1990s!) and captures enough of the audience’s attention to get them into the theater. Zoolander 2 is such a film.
A quick recap of the events following the original film are shown up front via news reels, noting that Derek’s wife is dead, his son has been taken from him due to negligent parenting, and he’s living in isolation somewhere in New Jersey. Hansel is also estranged from the world, hiding in a desert with his orgy partners (notably including Kiefer Sutherland playing a sensitive version of himself). When both of them are invited via Billy Zane to attend a fashion show in Rome–the very show described above–they find themselves in an adventure to find Zoolander’s son and stop the assassinations of famous pop stars. Penelope Cruz as a former-swimsuit-model-turned-government-agent feels like she’s trying very hard to keep the humor afloat, but the laughs are few and far between. Her character is also clearly intended to be there for both Zoolander and the audience to ogle, a reality which I imagine would (and should) bother modern movie audiences who are asking for more fully-realized female roles. The upcoming all-female Ghostbusters movie is indicative of this healthy shift in culture, but the Zoolander folks clearly aren’t aware of this.
The plot serves mostly as setup for gags or jokes, but as these attempts at humor fall flat, the narrative makes no sense and provokes little in the way of caring. Humor is an interesting art, and is usually connected with surprise or shock–we didn’t expect someone to say or do something, so we laugh. The difficulty with a sequel to a beloved cult comedy–and I do love the first Zoolander–is that this element of surprise has dissipated. It’s like when my young kids say something hilarious and elicit a laugh from me and my wife, so they say the exact same joke 4 or 5 more times in an attempt to get us to laugh again. By the fifth round, it’s moved from funny to annoying. Zoolander 2 feels akin to this experience. The best kind of comedic sequels try to build on the humor and delight, but add some surprise and astonishment within the mix. I think of the numerous cameos in Zoolander 2–Zane, Sutherland, and a fairly funny bit with Sting. These are amusing, but never cross over into full-blown hilarity, and often are noticeably pained attempts at trying too hard. The only moments I truly laughed involved Will Ferrell as Mugatu, spewing out villainous vitriol with the shrill level at maximum. But even this became tired rather quickly. The art of comedy is a fickle one.
If you liked the original Zoolander, then by all means, go watch the original Zoolander. Feel the nostalgia without ever having to ingest Zoolander 2.
IMDB Listing: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1608290/