It’s been 15 years since Ben Stiller built his comic monument to narcissism in Zoolander. Based on the blazing stupidity of male models in Manhattan, the movie opened two weeks after 9/11, not a good time for dumb jokes. Sensitivities were so high that the World Trade Center had to be digitally removed from release prints. Box office was tepid. But then came cable, DVD and streaming, giving the film a runway to the mainstream. Over the years, Stiller’s Derek Zoolander found audiences sucking in their cheeks and copying his patented looks: Blue Steel and Magnum. As star, director and co-writer, Stiller was hounded on social media for a follow-up.
Now it’s here. “They want a sequel until they get one,” Stiller recently joked. Expectations can be a bitch. But Zoolander 2 sweats its silly ass off to please. The results are scattershot. But when it works — oh, baby. There’s a bit with Justin Bieber and a selfie that, well, no spoilers.
There are megastar cameos, from Cumberbatch to Kanye and Kim. But the focus is on Derek, now a virtual recluse since the casualty-ridden collapse of the center he built for Kids Who Can’t Read Good and Who Wanna Learn to Do Other Stuff Good Too. Enter Hansel (Owen Wilson), also in hiding with his traveling orgy. Now forgotten, Derek and Hansel must reassert their relevance in fashion while helping an Interpol agent (Penélope Cruz) track down a Rome-based organization hellbent on murdering celebrities and creating a new Fountain of Youth.
Or at least I think that’s what it’s about. Derek also has a plus-size son (Cyrus Arnold) who may be the Chosen One. For me, Zoolander 2 is all about watching Derek and Hansel mix it up with returning villain Mugatu (Will Ferrell, so hot right now and forever) and his lady love, a floaty orange blob of botched facial surgery played by an unrecognizable but überfunny Kristen Wiig.
I’ve said too much as it is. A who’s who of fashion show up, and I’m not kidding. The movie is always kidding, which is its loopy, lunatic charm. In the spirit of his best work as a filmmaker, 2008’s Tropic Thunder, Stiller throws everything he can to induce hysteria. Even when he misses the mark, you applaud his effort. Insert Magnum face here.