There’s a fashion cop and a bad-fashion clink in the runway stumble called Zoolander 2, but what’s really needed is a boot from Monty Python’s Colonel.
The Colonel was the late Graham Chapman’s po-faced authority figure, who would suddenly terminate sketches he deemed to be “entirely too silly,” ordering participants to “get on with it.”Bozo-brained Zoolander 2 would have benefited from such brisk treatment, even if Chapman was required to show up in spirit form — as does Christine Taylor’s Matilda, whose character’s demise is explained through an unfunny contrivance that leaves the featured fashion idiot Derek Zoolander (Ben Stiller) widowed, alone and all but forgotten.
The 15 long years since the first Zoolander haven’t been kind to the film’s once-mighty male model of the “Blue Steel” stare, or to its zany parody of celebrity excess. Coincidentally released in the immediate wake of 9/11 horror, Zoolander offered welcome light relief in its send-up of a pop culture obsessed with mirrors and reflections. The sequel arrives in a blinkered world of cellphone zombies and reality-TV narcissists, a bad fit for the slapstick japes of Stiller, who again acts, directs and co-writes.
Like its title fool, Zoolander 2 wants desperately to be adored, despite coming hopelessly late to the party. The movie is crammed with so many product plugs and plot-stopping celebrity cameos — everybody from Justin Bieber to Sting to Benedict Cumberbatch to Anna Wintour — that it seems Stiller and company just wrote gags to connect one shout-out to another.
The bizarre 007-meets-The Omen narrative creakily winds around celebrities being mysteriously and ruthlessly machine-gunned, their last grimaces recorded as Blue Steel selfies — including Bieber’s, whose opening-credits “peace out” is actually one of the film’s few genuinely funny moments.
Special Agent Valentina Valencia (Penélope Cruz in Almodóvar mode), from Interpol’s “Global Fashion Division,” is tasked with stopping the boldfaced bloodbath. She drags Zoolander out of his “hermit crab” existence, along with his modelling rival Hansel (Owen Wilson), whose past 15 years have also been blighted: by a facial wound he hides with a golden mask and a growing and needy brood of orgy participants of varying gender, age, species and marquee status. Hansel has about one brain cell more than Zoolander, which makes three brain cells between them.
Seeing the first film is almost mandatory to get any of the sequel jokes: such as why Zoolander cruelly declares his neglected son Derek Jr. (Cyrus Arnold) too pudgy to love; and why there’s a freak-haired nemesis called Mugatu (Will Ferrell) incarcerated in fashion jail, plotting revenge.
Mugatu doesn’t even show up until about the one-hour mark, just in time to almost save the movie. Ferrell’s brand of silly is so much more freestyle than Stiller’s wearisome clown act, which bludgeons humour into submission.
And that’s the whole problem with Zoolander 2’s outdated comedy. It’s gotten unfashionable, yet it refuses to leave the catwalk. Where’s the Colonel when you really need him?