ZOOLANDER 2 Review: As Dumb As It Wants To Be

Cut down the celebrity cameos by half and you’d be cooking with gas.

Zoolander 2 is dumb. Magnificently, unashamedly, mind-smushingly dumb. It’s as dumb as its predecessor, no easy feat considering Zoolander is one of the dumbest comedies of the early 2000s, an era rich in cinematic idiocy. But it’s also nearly as funny as Zoolander, and if that fatuous masterpiece is the kind of stupid that lights your giggle gas, this will, too.

It’s been fifteen years since a goofy segment filmed for the VH1 Fashion Awards was ballooned into a ninety-minute feature asking us to believe that Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson are two of the most beautiful men on the planet, and the ensuing decade and a half have not made that premise any easier to purchase. But as with Zoolander, Stiller and Wilson’s total, solemn commitment to the idea of their own beauty gives weight to this unlikely illusion, creating a charming suspension of disbelief that heightens the Zooniverse into its own actualized world, as fantastical as Narnia. This bright, bizarre land is also where we’re meant to believe that male models (I mean, male models) are given access to the most elite and exclusive corners of célébrité. After Tyson Beckford went on to cameo in, well, Zoolander movies, can you even name a male model?

It’s now 2016, and after Derek Zoolander’s academic center for underprivileged whatevers collapsed into the East River, crushing his wife Matilda (Christine Taylor, still managing to return in a Glinda the Good Witch-style cameo) and minutely scarring the face of his frenemy Hansel (Wilson), Derek has gone into hiding in the frozen badlands of extremely northern New Jersey. Hansel, meanwhile, is hiding his hideous disfigurement in the uncharted territories of Malibu (Jesus, this movie is dumb. Hilariously dumb), growing domestic with his eleven-part orgy headed by Kiefer Sutherland as Kiefer Sutherland (so dumb).

But both men are invited by fashion mogul Alexanya Atoz to walk the runway for fashion’s newest bad boy, an infuriating hipster played by Kyle Mooney. You know how if an actor gains fifteen pounds and grows a mustache, reviews will refer to him as “unrecognizable”? Kristen Wiig is truly, truly unrecognizable as Atoz, the gourd-lipped Donatella Versace stand-in responsible for Derek and Hansel’s comebacks.

This silly plot is taking much longer to summarize than it should! Derek and Hansel find themselves sucked into a government investigation headed by Penélope Cruz’s Valentina in order to rescue Derek’s son (Cyrus Arnold, who is great). If your guess is that the complete knockout that is Valentina becomes irrepressibly drawn to a now-widowed Derek, you are correct. If your further guess is that Hansel spends much of the film committed to his eleven-part orgy, I’m impressed, and you are also correct.

It’s so, so dumb, ridiculous and pointless, too, but it’s also joke on top of joke, many of which are worthy of the name. Not all of the gags land, but Zoolander 2 is fast-moving, and if there’s a sketch that isn’t working, it’s over before the audience can grow tired of it. And best of all, it doesn’t repeat too many beats from Zoolander, a rare quality in a comedy sequel. A few of the jokes from that film were probably mandatory here, but most of them are new, and so is the plot (such as it is). The ending becomes amazingly weird, even weirder than foiled-assassination-plot-of-the-Malaysian-Prime-Minister weird. We're talking Satanic-cult-made-up-of-the-world's-greatest-real-life-fashion-designers weird.

The biggest complaint about Zoolander 2 is its over-crowded cameo cast. You’ve probably heard some ballyhoo about a bullet-riddled Justin Bieber, and that does make for a strong opening, but after a while the film stops feeling star-studded and starts to feel star-stuffed. Benedict Cumberbatch is a genderless, eyebrowless supermodel wizard named All. Fred Armisen is an eleven-year-old fashion intern with Fred Armisen’s face. MC Hammer is a perpetually hammer-dancing fashion prisoner. By the time we reach the end of the film and some of fashion’s most influential faces, the impact is completely diluted. Oh yeah: Will Ferrell is in this movie. He’s not even a cameo but a lead, and as funny as ever, but he’s easy to forget in a movie with this much going on.

Because apart from the cameos, and the occasionally incisive skewering of celebrity culture, and the fact that Penélope Cruz plays a perfect Bond babe with a capital B, what Zoolander 2 does best is the same thing that Zoolander did best: extremely dumb jokes and a surprisingly touching portrait of friendship between idiots.

In conclusion: I laughed!