Saturday, February 20, 2016

"Zoolander 2" Review: Still Really Really Ridiculously Stupid But With Far Less Fashion Sense


The original Zoolander came out over 15 years ago. That is a long time to expect anyone, even fans, to come back or even care that a sequel is made. Heck, there are people who will see this who were not even alive when the original came out. Luckily though the clever (if not uproariously stupid) lampooning of the fashion world is as relevant than ever. It may be long overdue but does that mean Zoolander is obsolete in the fashion world? Read the full review after the break.

Review Vital Stats:   
Projector Type: 2D Digital           
Film Rating: PG-13
Film Runtime:  1 hr 40 min
Studio: Paramount Pictures
Release Date: February 12, 2016

Biases:  
Loves: The first Zoolander
Likes: Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson, Will Ferrell
Neutral: Sequels that arrive 15 years after the first movie
Hates: When that 15 years shows in the finished product
Should there be a time cutoff for sequels?: .After Anchorman 2 , Dumb and Dumber To and now Zoolander 2, anything over 5 years just shouldn't happen.

Every movie should start with Justin Bieber's death.

Merely 2 days after construction finished on Derek Zoolander's (Ben Stiller) "Center for Kids Who Can't Read Good and Who Wanna Learn to Do Other Stuff Good Too" is completed it comes crashing down (literally) due to some rather shoddy materials that were used (Popsicle sticks for support beams?). While Derek survives the incident unscathed, his wife Matilda (Christine Taylor) is killed and his super model sidekick Hansel (Owen Wilson) is horribly disfigured causing him to retire from the modeling world altogether. Derek and Matilda's son, Derek Jr. (Cyrus Arnold) also survived but after a scandalous video demonstrates to the whole world that he is an unfit father (making spaghetti is hard ya know), his son is taken away from him resulting in Derek retreating to the seclusion of...a...hermit...crab?

Years later after the fashion world has all but forgotten Derek's Magnum look and how hot Hansel is, they are recruited by the world famous designer Atoz (Kristen Wiig taking the botox look a bit too far). Derek hopes to prove to the world that he can be a responsible adult and get his kid back while Hansel uses the opportunity to run away from his responsibilities as a soon to be father after impregnating his entire orgy squad. Little do they know that after numerous famous celebrities have been assassinated lead fashion police detective and former swimsuit model Valentina Valencia (Penelope Cruz) is tracking their every movement in hopes of unraveling the mystery behind the killings.

Derek and Hansel are back but nobody really seems to care...sort of like real life.

The one thing that sticks out like a sore thumb after doing two whole paragraphs of exposition is that Zoolander 2 (Z2 from this point forward) is way too busy for its own good. From the number of sublots to a slew of new, mostly unnecessary characters and an over reliance on recycling old jokes, Z2 feels like it was made by someone who watched the original Zoolander (Z1 from this point forward) and structured the sequel in a way that felt a lot like the first but in an attempt to make it seem different threw in all this superfluous fodder. The result of this is a sort of cluttered mess that despite retaining the frantic lunacy of the original and a even a few original touches of brilliance falls short of attaining the same unique level of inspired stupidity the first Zoolander was able to achieve.

The biggest problem with Z2 is that instead of making the fashion industry its focal point it is trying to be this silly spy parody as well. While Z1 also had some spy movie touches thrown in it was always more in the background and used sparingly. Z2 isn't able to find that delicate balance which results in long stretches of time being devoted to things like going to secret lairs, visiting spy headquarters, visiting maximum security prisons and other such things you find in every spy parody ever made. Perhaps if it did something new with the material it wouldn't have been as pedestrian as it came off but Z2 is way too comfortable in its lazy spy facade. While the film does suffer from this unnecessary extra baggage it is somewhat saved by its spot on lampooning of the fashion industry.

Lady Gaga jokes are so last year and Kristen Wiig deserves a better role.

Coming from someone who could care less about what is hot and what isn't, this is what the main appeal was about the first film. Z1 created this completely absurd world where the male model was idolized like some sort of deity, Male Model of the Year award ceremonies were bigger than the Oscars and glamorous after parties filled with the Hollywood elite bowing down to their chiseled features is commonplace. Despite being a little less focused this time around that same over the top approach to the world of fashion and those who dictate what is trending and what isn't remains the appeal of the Zoolander films and Z2 does an admirable job updating Derek and Hansel into the world of social media and pop culture trends.

A lot of the fun in Z1 was watching the inept duo of Derek and Hansel try to unravel a mystery they had no idea they were even involved in while instead they always focused on themselves with Derek trying to overcome his stage handicap of being unable to turn left and Hansel learning the power of friendship. That relationship carries over into Z2 but feels a bit stilted this time around mainly because there isn't much more for them to learn in the sequel. Derek is busy trying to be a good dad while Hansel is busy trying to not be a dad and aside from the unnecessary inclusion of a brand new love interest for Derek in the form of Penelope Cruz, that's all they really have to do in Z2.

The best cameo and best new character in the same shot, 'all' is good.

There are moments of inspiration that pop up from time to time such as the running gag of Owen Wilson being the hottest model in the world despite having the world's most recognizable broken nose. That gag gets taken even further in Z2 in regards to his horrible disfigurement that would have been hilarious if it weren't such an obvious reveal. Derek's interactions with his son are also high points for the film mostly due to the reveal that Derek Jr. does not exactly follow in the footsteps of his father, but even then that is nothing more than a recreation of  Dr. Evil and his son Scotty from the Austin Powers films which did it way better.

Most of the characters in Z2 seem to be a bit uninspired. New recruits such as Kristen Wiig and Penelope Cruz add very little to the film. In fact it is downright criminal how underutilized Wiig is in a role that literally anyone could have played. That isn't a knock on Wiig but more a knock on how useless that character is aside from being a more than obvious parody of Lady Gaga's extravagant wardrobe. But even when that character does finally get something to do at the end they switch Wiig out for a different actress. What? Why? At least the return of Mugatu breaths some much needed life into the film but he doesn't make an appearance until towards the end of the film leaving all the heavy lifting to returning characters from Z1 such as Justin Theroux's breakdance-fighting DJ who looks as interested as someone who just showed up to collect his paycheck and then leave.

I promise any caption you can think of right now is funnier than this scene actually is.

One of the best jokes in the entire film though is centered around one the new characters, Don Atari (Kyle Mooney) who epitomizes the complete disdain the new generation has for the older generation. When he shows up wearing a shirt with Zoolander's face on it with the quote, "I should call Billy Zane" merely minutes after Derek said those exact same words is quite honestly one of the greatest jabs at trending media of all time. Then Atari starts to talk and it gets taken to a whole new level as the character becomes this sort of self entitled little brat who is completely incapable of saying anything without attaching a "Dam!" or "Oh snap!" after it. When Atari comes face to face with Mugatu it is easily the best scene in the whole film as he finally meets his match.

One of the other staples of Z1 were the slew of celebrity cameos and regardless of your personal taste Z2 comes through like a champ on this front. The cameos range from quick winks and waves such as Christina Hendricks and MC Hammer to more substantial such as Neil Degrasse Tyson and Sting. Even appearances by such infamous hated "trendy" celebrities like Justin Bieber and Ariana Grande are sure to give their haters new reasons to smile with Bieber going out like a chump and Grande getting slapped with a well deserved "Bitch!". But the real question marks slash inspired inclusions are that of Benedict Cumberbatch playing a gender neutral supreme model and Kiefer Sutherland as the spokesperson for Hansel's multi-pregnant orgy group (including himself).

Mugatu returns but his arrival is a bit too late to save the film.

Ultimately though the biggest Achilles heal of Z2 is its reluctance to forge its own path. For all the great cameos and clever jabs at the fashion industry, it is all a bit ho hum in the end. A lot of the jokes are just recycled or not that funny and there just seems to be this over reliance on reminding the audience about every single joke from Z1 which just inspires one to go watch that film again instead of this thing. Whether it be the fact that all of Derek's looks are the same, Hansel's addiction to orgies or that Mugatu likes to throw hot coffee on his assistant, if it was even remotely funny in the first film it will make an appearance in the second if for no other reason than the fact that the filmmakers know those jokes worked before so why not again, right?

Nowhere is this more gratingly apparent than the reprisal of the Jitterbug scene which doesn't carry nearly the same number of in jokes it did in the first film. In Z1 it was used to both establish how carefree and simple minded Derek and his entourage were but also a character moment where for the first time Derek finds himself alone and needing to call on the help of his greatest nemesis. In Z2 it is used as nothing more than a quick joke to remind fans of the first film and a very dated gag involving selfies. But that also seems to be a problem with Z2, it often times feels like a film that should have been released 2 years ago because most of its jokes are severely outdated and outclassed by others how attacked the same trends and/or celebrities when it still mattered.


FINAL THOUGHTS:

Earth to Ben Stiller, what happened? Whether it is too busy trying to be something it shouldn't or too busy trying to be the first film all over again, Z2 is a peculiar sort of film that is difficult to really classify in the traditional sense. It's has its moments and can be a lot of fun given that your expectations are checked at the door but anyone looking for a true evolution for Zoolander will likely come away from the experience wanting to watch the first film again to get their fix instead. But hey, any movie that opens with Justin Bieber getting gunned down can't be all that bad right?

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