Derek Zoolander is back and as dumb as ever. But while that may be good for fans of the cult-adored 2001 comedy, the bad news is the long-awaited “Zoolander 2” isn’t just devotedly dumb, it’s also lazy and lame.
Directed by and starring Ben Stiller, “Zoolander 2” shatters the happy ending of the original film to make dopey Derek Zoolander a “hermit crab,” shut away from fashion world and estranged from son Derek Junior. However, an offer to walk in the runway show of a hot new designer (“Saturday Night Live’s” Kyle Mooney) gives the Blue Steel-flashing has-been a chance to reclaim his spot at the top of high fashion and get his son back. Also, Hansel (Owen Wilson) is back, and there’s some thread about a prophecy and pop stars being murdered by a mysterious cloaked figures. Plus, Penelope Cruz plays an Interpol agent for the fashion department, because sure.
The plot for “Zoolander 2” becomes increasingly convoluted and nonsensical with all the espionage and biblical backstory that screenwriters Stiller, Justin Theroux, Nicholas Stoller and John Hamburg throw into the mix. But that’s basically the point; even returning villain Mugatu (Will Ferrell) remarks how the story makes no sense. So let’s ignore that and focus on what “Zoolander 2” is really about: jokes and celebrity cameos.
“Zoolander” fans will likely enjoy the many callbacks. Some are fun, like the reappearance of Zoolander buddy and dashing bald man Billy Zane as himself. Some play on nostalgia, such as when Derek and Hansel reenact their famous “walk off” moves. But most feel like retreads of gags that worked better the first time. Once more, Wham’s “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” plays during a carefree car ride, but its silly spectacle punch can’t compete with a gasoline fight. So why bother?
Beyond that, there are repeated and prolonged scenes of Derek not understanding something, then Hansel also not getting it, and then someone else explaining what they didn’t get, staring at them in frustration or commenting on how dumb they are. That was funny the first time, and maybe even the third. However, by now, it’s old, which is somewhat ironic, considering a fear of being outdated and uncool is a tedious theme of “Zoolander 2.” It’s as if the inspiration for the script was 80 percent rehashing old Zoolander jokes and 19 percent this GIF:
As “hipster” designer Don Atari, Mooney mumbles senseless slang and compliments things by insulting them, because youth culture, amirite? It’s not that hipster fashion or modern slang isn’t worthy of mockery, but lackluster lines like “I hate these guys, they’re the best” make it feel as if Stiller’s team isn’t even trying.
Aiming for politically incorrect humor, the script falls short of clever and settles on vaguely offensive, dolling out fat jokes, gay jokes, and Benedict Cumberbatch as an androgynous model named All for a series of transphobic barbs that equate gender with genitalia. Stiller seems to think it’s safe to put lines like “Do you have a hot dog or a bun?” in the mouths of Hansel and Derek. However, that’s not satire (think “Borat”); the two aren’t called out for their ignorance in those moments, only when their phones are out of style or when basic grammar confounds them.
In a crowded theater, most of the laugh lines fell flat until we finally got to Ferrell, whose manic menace as Mugatu is still a pleasure, especially when he’s throwing shade or flat-out insulting real-life designers. Kristen Wiig is a splendid scene-stealer as designer Alexanya Atoz, whose face is so stretched by plastic surgery that she looks like a certain “Doctor Who” baddie. (“Moisturize me!“) “Zoolander 2’s” stupid silliness works best with new-to-the-crew Wiig, whether she’s slaughtering pronunciations with her out-there accent or scream- kissing Ferrell’s freaky fiend with all the fiery passion of stray cats in heat.
The other standout is a celebrity cameo that hasn’t been teased in any of the film’s sprawling promotions, so I won’t spoil it here. However, I’ll say that every moment this tough guy subverts his persona in this comedy is deliriously absurd and delicious. Unfortunately, like Wiig, he’s criminally underused.
Ultimately, Stiller tries to make his movie meta by having its heroes labeled “Old” and “Lame” only to be redeemed by proving themselves once more relevant and cool. But “Zoolander 2” offers no such redemption for Stiller himself, delivering a comedy that’s studded with dud punchlines, rehashed gags and too few fresh bits. But hey, at least Justin Bieber gets killed in it.
“Zoolander 2” opens Friday nationwide.