Zoolander 2 (PG-13) ★★

Owen Wilson, Ben Stiller and Penélope Cruz in ‘Zoolander 2’ Photo Credit: Wilson Webb/Paramount Pictures.

Zoolander 2 is heavy on cameos but light on laughs.

Don’t you just hate it when—against your better judgment—you still get your hopes up for a movie… and then it disappoints you mightily? I’ll admit to not really liking the 2001 comedy Zoolander, which starred Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson as dim-witted (but “really, really, really ridiculously good-looking”) male models Derek Zoolander and Hansel. However, it’s one of those films that gained somewhat of a cult following on DVD, and its silly humor eventually grew on me. I started to believe that Zoolander 2 might have a shot at being that kind of rare follow-up that’s better than its source material. The clever in-character publicity stunts Stiller and Wilson have been pulling off over the past several months (a surprise runway walk-off at Valentino’s show during Paris Fashion Week; presidential-candidate fashion commentary on SNL’s Weekend Update; setting the Guinness World Record for the longest selfie stick at the London premiere) only raised my expectations. But unfortunately Zoolander 2 fell victim to many of the usual comedy-sequel crimes: a convoluted plot, lazy dialogue, unfunny jokes and—worst of all—relying on star power too much.

Stiller, who directed the film and co-wrote the script with John Hamburg, Nick Stoller and Justin Theroux, brought us up to speed on what’s happened to the characters over the past 15 years through a fun and fast-paced series of news clips. This was one of my favorite parts of the film… and it took place in the first five minutes. (Not a good sign.) We learn that The Derek Zoolander Center for Kids Who Can’t Read Good and Who Wanna Learn to Do Other Stuff Good Too collapsed shortly after it was built, killing Derek’s baby-mama Matilda and disfiguring Hansel. Soon after, Derek was deemed unfit to raise his son Derek Jr. after video surfaced of him with uncooked sticks of spaghetti in his hands, exasperatedly yelling, “How did mommy make it soft?!” Father and son have not seen each other since. Derek retreated to the hinterland of northern New Jersey to live out life as a “hermit crab.” Similarly, Hansel’s been staying away from the limelight because of his, um, face injury. (The eventual reveal of that is pretty funny, too.)

The explanation of what happened between the first film and the sequel is the only part of the plot that makes any sort of sense. It’s tough to summarize the rest of the storyline because it’s like the team of writers just threw together a hodgepodge of random ideas and hoped one of them would work. Needless to say, something (or someone) is able to coax both Derek and Hansel out of hiding and off to Rome, where pop stars are being killed by an unknown assailant, for an unknown reason. In charge of the case for the Interpol “Fashion Police” division is Melanie Valentina (Penélope Cruz), who—after recruiting Derek to help solve the mystery—isn’t given much else to do except remind everyone of her enviable figure. I got the impression that Zoolander’s love Matilda had been killed off solely because Cruz agreed to join the cast as the female lead.

Derek believes that proving his worth in the investigation will help him win his son back. I’m not spoiling anything by saying that we do see Derek Jr. (newcomer Cyrus Arnold) again… but he’s not exactly what his father was expecting. This is where the film got particularly icky to me; I’m not the most PC person in the world, but I don’t find any joy in laughing at a kid’s expense, and that kind of mean-spiritedness drove almost all of the Derek Jr.- related humor. The writers didn’t have to go there. On the bright side, the young Arnold was probably the best actor in Zoolander 2 and I enjoyed his performance, which showed quite a range in the midst of such a goofy spectacle.

Most of said spectacle revolves around celebrities popping into the frame about every five minutes for no particular reason. In the last film there were some stellar cameos—like David Duchovny as a hand model and David Bowie as a walk-off judge. In Zoolander 2 there are some memorable ones, too, including Kiefer Sutherland, Benedict Cumberbatch and Sting. But for the most part the cameos were distracting and unnecessary. Kristen Wiig and Kyle Mooney had more significant roles as high-fashion icons, but their characters were completely nonsensical. As in, I literally could not understand what they were saying (or why they were there). And don’t even get me started on Fred Armisen’s creepy, nightmare-inducing character. Then there were the utterly pointless appearances by Katy Perry, Ariana Grande, Olivia Munn… the list goes on.

By the final act, which builds up to a confrontation with Zoolander’s arch-nemesis Mugatu (Will Ferrell) at the IncrediBall fashion gala, all I could think was that Stiller had used this sequel as an excuse to get a bunch of his friends together and run around Rome. It was the exact same feeling I had after suffering through Dumb and Dumber To (minus the Rome part). With so many comedic talents in one film, we have the right to expect more. Now all Stiller can do to make it up to us is promise that there will never be a Zoolander 3.

Bottom-Line? Even if you’re a really, really, really big fan of the 2001 original, you probably still won’t find this lazily written sequel to be worthy of your time. Zoolander 2 is more concerned with half-baked celebrity cameos than it is with plot or actual humor, and you’re likely to walk out of the theater disappointed. If you’re still curious, wait for it to come out on DVD.

Cast: Ben Stiller (Derek Zoolander), Owen Wilson (Hansel), Penélope Cruz (Melanie Valentina), Will Ferrell (Mugatu), Kristen Wiig (Alexanya Atoz)

Credits: Directed by Ben Stiller; written by Ben Stiller, John Hamburg, Nick Stoller and Justin Theroux

Studio: Paramount Pictures

Run Time: 1 hour 42 minutes

Erika Olson© February 12, 2016