The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Zoolander 2

Ben Stiller's Zoolander was not a huge box office hit. It was released just a few weeks after the horrific events of 9/11 – a time America was understandably not yet ready to laugh again. (On a personal level, it marked the first time I did laugh since that tragic day, which proved cathartic in a way I'd never felt catharsis before.) Once on DVD, the movie found an appreciative audience, and its stature has grown since that time. Making a sequel fifteen years later is a dicey proposition, though, even when you've got a cult following. Zoolander 2 will probably disappoint people looking for a carbon copy of the original, but its refusal to be one is probably its best quality.

Ben Stiller returns as male model Derek Zoolander, as does Owen Wilson as fellow model Hansel. Both have gone into retirement/hiding. A sexy Interpol agent named Valentina (Penelope Cruz) calls them back into action. Someone is killing the world's most famous pop stars, and all of them are dying with one of Zoolander's signature “looks” on their faces. Valentina believes this must mean something. Following a trail of fashion-related clues, Zoolander and Hansel uncover a conspiracy involving top designer Alexanya Atoz (the unrecognizable Kristen Wiig) and old nemesis Mugatu (Will Ferrell).

The original Zoolander was essentially a spoof of the modeling/fashion industry. Apparently realizing that he'd already been there and done that, Stiller – who directed and co-wrote the script with Justin Theroux, John Hamburg, and Nicholas Stoller – takes it a step further. Zoolander 2 is a spoof of superficial pop culture obsession. Fashion trends are mocked, but so are fascination with celebrities and annoying trends. (In one funny scene, Zoolander causes a car accident because he's using a selfie stick while driving.) Stiller utilizes wall-to-wall star cameos to point out how our culture elevates any moment that involves a celebrity into an immediate “event.” Many of the biggest laughs come from how random and pointless many of them are. The movie gets you excited about seeing a famous face, but then the moment doesn't amount to anything substantive and you chuckle knowing that you fell for the gratuitousness of the cameo. It's a subtle, but stinging commentary on a society where many people know more about an actor or a singer than they do about things of actual importance.

Zoolander 2 is somewhat reminiscent of Anchorman 2, another belated sequel to a modern cult classic, in that it avoids repeating gags in favor of shooting for next-level comedy. Some of the jokes are intentionally absurd (comedian Fred Armisen's head is superimposed onto a child's body for no other reason than to be creepy-funny), random (Hansel has orgies with bizarre combinations of people, including a chimney sweep and Keifer Sutherland), or just plain out-there (the Eyes Wide Shut-esque climax). Stiller also inserts some over-the-top spy movie parody as the dim-witted models become embroiled in espionage.

Attempting this sort of humor obviously yields hit-or-miss returns. Certain gags in the movie fall flat, while others, including a bizarre androgynous character played by Benedict Cumberbatch, could have been taken a lot further to maximize their impact. The plot is also really thin; it's little more than a hook on which to hang all the jokes and comical non sequiturs. Zoolander 2 would have benefited from a more coherent story that put everything in a better structured context. That said, when the film hits, it hits big, delivering moments of uproarious insanity and spot-on mockery of a world where even the least interesting famous person gets more attention than the most interesting anonymous person.

While it doesn't entirely hit the bullseye, Zoolander 2 nicely continues Ben Stiller's career-long interest in satirizing the entertainment world. It may not reach the comedic highs of Tropic Thunder, but it does have a delightful subversive streak in its exploration of pop culture that's there if you're looking for it.

( out of four)

Zoolander 2 is rated PG-13 for crude and sexual content, a scene of exaggerated violence, and brief strong lanaguage. The running time is 1 hour and 42 minutes.

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