The original Zoolander was a rare film for me that on repeated viewings became something I sort of half-heartedly cherished, quoted, and ostensibly enjoyed. It says a lot about my growth as a human that the sudden presence of a second Zoolander film hasn’t exactly stirred my hype machine.
Generic Hollywood sequel rules state that the second film in a series has to both expand the world we’ve previously seen our characters exist in and, especially in the modern film era, add a certain percentage of new, exotic locales and bigger, potentially less thought through explosions. How though, when faced with creating a follow-up to a film like Zoolander (teetering on the border of bat-shit to begin with) do you up the ante? How do you add another layer to the cake without creating something completely unapproachable by new viewers or old fans? Zoolander 2, furthering the adventures of male-model-turned-world-hero Derek Zoolander and his coterie of dimwitted model friends, chooses to expand, well everything. If Zoolander the First was a tongue-in-cheek way of poking fun at the world of fashion, Zoolander 2 is a hit the ground running immersion into the unexplored Fashion World of Derek Zoolander. Seemingly, the runway isn’t the only battlefield in the world of Derek Zoolander, the whole world is some sort of fashion-obsessed alternate universe. Interpol (always with the Interpol people) has a Fashion Division (headed up by Penelope Cruz, who in both looks and talent, still has it), there’s a prison for Fashion Criminals (get it?) and even a fashion Illuminati working behind the scenes to alter the face of … yup, fashion. So, sure, Zoolander 2 pulls away from the tropes of sequels and posits interesting ideas, but, again, sequels nowadays can’t just be riffs on what came before, they have to be bigger, more international, possibly stupider, because we, the film-going public seemingly need our second dip to take these known characters and toss them into situations that supposedly, somebody wants to see. Which brings us to Derek Zoolander, 10 years after the fact, a widow, a dead-beat dad and hermit living the wilds of New Jersey, but something or someone wants him and orgy-aficionado Hansel (Owen Wilson) back in the fashion spotlight. Thus, the film twists the original, downplays its stars, and gives us what amounts to a fish-out-of-water story, albeit one tinged with spiritualism and daddy issues. Ben Stiller isn’t a bad director, at times he’s a great director, but the film, with its need to highlight how aware it is of current culture and how aware it is that this film is funny because, hey, these guys don’t fit into that culture, flounders under the excess every sequel demands. There is no scene in this film that doesn’t feature a cameo or a stab at technology or some one-off appearance of a character that never appears again or some bigger/better/weirder allusion to the original film. And after a while, the excess of everything just gets to be that, excess, and even within the borders of this fairly detailed world Stiller and company have created, it feels sodden, the potential of ideas once again bogged down by a need to satisfy some invisible focus group. Zoolander was a fluke success if there ever was one, a slight film given gravity because of the bong rips and beer bongs of a certain generation still toeing the water-line of internet humor. To see it again, now trying to keep afloat in the murky puddle it helped to create, seems all too connected to the plight of its has-been fashion superstars. But, where they sashay off into the sunset, this 75 minute kick to the serotonin centers of the brain may be too heavy to make it down the runway.
One Last Thought:
When does this endless parade of sequels and remakes finally sputter out?