THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


I know it's wildly unfair to make generalizations about people based solely on their professions, but I will admit that I have never had much respect for supermodels. Regular models (those of the non-super variety) at least show you how clothes look in the latest catalogs. But supermodels - those who become household names and grace the covers of magazines simply because of their genetic structure - well, what exactly do they do? If there's a job out there that provides less of a contribution to the world, I've yet to find it. Okay, okay, I have a tiny bit of prejudice in my system but so do many people. If we didn't assume that supermodels waded in the shallow end of the intelligence pool, why else would there be a comedy like Zoolander, which mercilessly satirizes the modeling world?

Leading male supermodel Derek Zoolander demonstrates his patented "Blue Steel" look
Ben Stiller (who also directed and co-wrote) plays Derek Zoolander, the world's leading male supermodel. Derek is about as vein as they come. And just about as stupid. He is known for his trademark "looks" - poses that carry names like Le Tigre, Blue Steel, and Magnum. The thing is, all his "looks" look the same. After losing the Male Supermodel of the Year award to his rival Hansel (Owen Wilson), Zoolander decides to exit the business and get a job in the coal mines with his father (Jon Voight) and brothers. He is called back into action by famous fashion designer Mugatu (Will Ferrell), the one designer for whom he's never worked. Mugatu wants Zoolander to head up his new homeless-inspired collection known as "Derelicte." It's the dream of a lifetime for the model.

What Zoolander doesn't know is that Mugatu has secret plans to brainwash him into assassinating the Prime Minister of Malaysia. The reasoning for this is perhaps somewhat unusual. The fashion industry depends on Malaysia's child labor to survive, and the Prime Minister is trying to make reforms in that department. Meanwhile, Zoolander hooks up with Matilda (Christine Taylor), a Time magazine reporter who helps uncover Mugatu's nefarious plan.

Zoolander, by its maker's own admission, is somewhat thin on plot. Basically, it's little more than an excuse to make fun of the modeling industry. Many of the funniest moments are inspired by the presumed egotism of models. For example, Hansel challenges Zoolander to a "walk-off" - a competition to see who can deliver the most stylish moves on a runway. Other moments simply parody the images of models we see on TV and in magazines. One of the best scenes involves a choreographed slo-mo water fight at a gas station that turns deadly.

Like Austin Powers or Ace Ventura, Derek Zoolander is destined to be one of those characters you either love or hate. (Shown a scale model of a learning institution that bears his name, Zoolander smashes it to the floor saying: "How can we teach children to read if they can't even fit inside the building?") He is the dimmest bulb in the chandelier, a self-impressed buffoon who thinks he's a great humanitarian because he's been in an ad for Skyy Vodka. I found the character to be hilarious, since Stiller plays him so skillfully. This is everyone's worst stereotype of male models come to life. Stiller is adept at playing Zoolander as someone so obnoxious that you feel a weird affection for him. He's not really malicious, he's just not playing with a full deck.

I laughed from start to finish at the film, and some of the potshots Stiller takes at the modeling profession are classic. Yes, you can make the argument that ridiculing models is like shooting fish in a barrel. Then again, the film doesn't necessarily have a mean streak. This is good-natured satire, meant to amuse rather than offend. For all his ego, Zoolander proves to be more than just a good-looking guy with a portfolio of magazine covers. When asked to rise to the challenge, he does. In its own way, Zoolander is an offbeat reminder not to stereotype. Sure models are dumb, the film seems to say, but they're not that dumb.

( 1/2 out of four)

Zoolander is rated PG-13 for sexual content and drug references. The running time is 1 hour and 30 minutes.
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