Relax, don’t do it: ‘Zoolander 2’ script had freak gasoline accident

July 23, 2024 | (Jason Fraley)

WASHINGTON — The original “Zoolander” wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but it sure hit my sweet spot with its creative lampoon of the fashion industry.

The 2001 comedy began as somewhat of a cult comedy classic, overshadowed by Ben Stiller’s mainstream masterpieces “There’s Something About Mary” (1998) and “Meet the Parents” (2000), but rose to widespread popularity thanks to repeat viewings on home video in college dorms.

So the anticipation was understandably high for “Zoolander 2,” Stiller’s sixth directorial effort after his underrated debut “Reality Bites” (1994), the criminally misunderstood Chris Farley-Jim Carrey swap “The Cable Guy” (1996), the refreshingly original “Zoolander” (2001), the surprisingly hilarious “Tropic Thunder” (2008) and the lackluster remake “The Secret Life of Walty Mitty” (2013).

The sequel picks up 15 years after the events of the first “Zoolander,” which introduced dimwitted fashion model Derek Zoolander (Stiller), his sidekick Hansel (Owen Wilson) and fashion mogul Mugatu (Will Ferrell) amid a “Manchurian Candidate” scheme to kill the Prime Minister of Malaysia, only instead of solitaire, the brainwashing is triggered by “Relax” by Frankie Goes to Hollywood.

All these years later, Derek and Hansel have given up modeling and are no longer on speaking terms, until a rival fashion company hatches a diabolical “fountain of youth” scheme involving Derek’s long-lost son, Derek Zoolander Jr. (Cyrus Arnold), as Mugatu waits in a maximum security fashion prison.

If that plot sounds like just enough nostalgia to buy a movie ticket, by all means go for it, but you better temper your expectations. While “Zoolander” offered hysterical gags like Derek only able to turn his body to the right, “Zoolander 2” rarely makes a right turn in a downward unfunny spiral. The longer this thing lumbers on screen, the more you feel duped for falling for its promising Act One.

The movie opens strong with a glorious action chase sequence that subverts its shaky-cam style with unexpected belly laughs. Not only do we get a celebrity death everyone can rally around, we get some reversals of expectations that offer a surprising social commentary on modern tech culture.

The ensuing media montage — i.e. “Previously on Zoolander” — is quite brilliant, as real-life cable news anchors remind us of the events of the first flick and catch us up on what has happened since.

Best of all, the reintroductions of Derek and Hansel do not disappoint, as Billy Zane delivers Netflix to both Stiller and Wilson in their respective hideouts. Stiller is a recluse in a wintry “Dr. Zhivago” cabin, while Wilson wears a mask amid a desert orgy where Kiefer Sutherland steals the show.

This is precisely the point you should take a “right turn” toward the exit. You’ve seen all you needed to see. The setup is the high point of the movie. As Derek and Hansel hit the runway at the start of Act Two, the movie quickly loses steam before gradually plunging into a depressing stupidity.

I say “depressing” because the first “Zoolander” masterfully carved a boneheaded path to our funny-bone. It takes a certain genius to pull off the deliberately dumb, a la  “Dumb and Dumber” (1994).

That’s right, someone had to say it. “Dumb and Dumber” is a genius 4-star comedy classic.

So is “Caddyshack” (1980). And “Austin Powers” (1997). And “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” (2005).

If you disagree, you’re part of the problem.

Comedies never get enough credit.

Which is why it pains me so much to say that “Zoolander 2” is one of those lazy movies — like “The Hangover 2” (2011) and “Caddyshack 2” (1988) — that gives comedy sequels a bad name.

Stiller and Wilson are perfectly capable of sidesplitting sequels, as in “Meet the Fockers” (2004), which added Dustin Hoffman and Barbra Streisand as the in-law counterparts to Robert DeNiro and Blythe Danner. These “celebrity additions” worked because they were limited in number and cast as actual characters in the story, rather than crammed on screen in an endless parade of forced cameos.

Everyone is in “Zoolander 2” — Penélope Cruz, Justin Bieber, Kim Kardashian, Kanye West, Billy Zane, Sting, Susan Sarandon, Kiefer Sutherland, Willie Nelson, Macaulay Culkin, Ariana Grande, Demi Lovato, Katy Perry, Fred Armisen, Lenny Kravitz, Kate Moss, Kristen Wiig, Justin Theroux, Benedict Cumberbatch, Olivia Munn, Joe Jonas, John Malkovich, Christine Taylor and Neil deGrasse Tyson.

A few of these famous faces deliver sporadic chuckles, but most add nothing of merit. Kyle Mooney (“SNL”) deserves credit as Don Atari, who speaks with the annoying Millennial trend of finishing sentences with “bruh” and “yun,” though it was likely funnier in the pitch room than it is on screen.

You’ll hold out hope that Will Ferrell might save the flick with a quotable late-movie appearance like his meatloaf-craving Chazz Reinhold, who worked wonders with Wilson in “Wedding Crashers” (2005). But this time, Ferrell’s candy-colored return as Mugatu is more ridiculous than it is funny.

By the end, “Zoolander 2” manages to turn its “Blue Steel” face into the “Night at the Roxbury” head bob. Both were absolutely hilarious at the turn of the millennium, but no sequels are necessary. Studio execs should have done the “Magnum” pose and frozen this thing in its development tracks.

After 15 long years, this is what we get?

It’s as if the script was written at “The Center for Kids Who Can’t Read Good,” where someone spilled an orange mocha frappuccino all over the pages then lit the end on fire in a freak gasoline accident.

In other words, you may want to go to it, but relax, don’t do it.

2-stars

The above rating is based on a 4-star scale. See where this film ranks in Jason’s Fraley Film Guide. Follow WTOP Film Critic Jason Fraley on Twitter @JFrayWTOP.

Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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