They say good things come to those who wait. So how do you tell the fans of box office mediocrity turned home video cult classic Zoolander that the 15 years between installments of this fashion industry spoof were all for naught. Frontloaded to the point of tipping over, the rest of the poorly designed return eventually implodes under the weight of its own pointlessness. That famed “blue steel” look may be lethal, but the lack of anything funny here is far deadlier for those hoping for a good time.
After all, the style game is already one big in-joke. You’ve probably seen the Buzzfeed compendiums come NY (or Paris, or London) Fashion Week where name designers show off their insane side in order to drum up pub for their otherwise ordinary off the rack looks. Dudes dressed in metal cages. Women wearing corsets as hats. When you’ve got a subject generating as much self-spoof as Channel and Gaultier, you better be right on point with your parody.
But Zoolander 2 is lazy and lax. It wants to be daring but all it winds up achieving is an epic level of dullness. The main narrative revolves around a series of (how did they get them) cameos, each famous face dying with Derek Zoolander’s (Ben Stiller, looking really old) patented male model pout on their lips. In order to find out who is behind these crimes, Interpol send their top agent, Melanie Valentina (Penelope Cruz), out to recruit our hero and his former rival/BFF Hansel (Owen Wilson) so they can infiltrate the…wait for it…Italian fashion scene. There, they run into Alexanya Atoz (Kristin Wiig) and her face full of Botox.
After that, it’s more random bits that don’t add up. Hansel travels with an continuous orgy. Yawn. Names like Justin Bieber and Madonna mock their images. Snore. Will Ferrell’s Jacobim Mugatu makes a return, and does little with the spotlight. In fact, it often feels like there is a different, perhaps better version of Zoolander 2 laying somewhere in some studio editing bay. Four writers do not one consistent tone make, and the legitimate absence of punchlines is enough to have you wondering if that, in and of itself, is the joke. There are a few giggles here and there, but they come from familiarity, not anything fresh offered by the film.
Let’s look at another long in development sequel that people thought would be less than decent. Ferrell was part of the delightfully demented Anchorman and when it was announced that, some nine years later, we’d be seeing the return of Ron Burgundy and the boys, many were less than hopefully. Luckily, Anchorman 2 was a smart, sly satire with the beginnings of the 24 hour news cycle in its sites (“More graphics!!!”). There is so much to choose from in the current fashion clime–the influence of the Internet, reality TV shows, drastic aesthetic approaches–that to resort to something akin to international intrigue is a sign of creative desperation. The spy stuff didn’t work out so well for Cars 2, did it?
Sure, Stiller and Wilson are game, they give it their all, and there’s enough goodwill built up for the original that fans will probably enjoy the first hour of the movie. But once Zoolander 2 reveals its real aims, when it dispenses with what made it a repeatable dialogue delight a decade and a half ago, there is nothing left but a hollow core. Tom Petty once wrote that the waiting is the hardest part. Actually, watching the result of the 15 years between Zoolander and Zoolander 2 is a lot tougher. Isn’t that right, Dumb and Dumber To?