(Video on Demand, May 2016) Given how I really, really liked the first Zoolander as a clever silly comedy, I expected more of the same, even from a belated sequel. Alas, this Zoolander 2 seems to be taking its cues from its moronic protagonist in becoming dumber and far less clever. The obvious lesson here is that this sequel, fifteen years later, should not have been put in production: Given the original’s cult success, the follow-up was doomed to paralyzing levels of self-awareness. It doesn’t matter if the list of cameos reaches in the mid-double-digits: much of the plot feels perfunctory, with celebrity walk-on taking the place of actual humour. The first few minutes don’t start things promisingly, as a quick recap of Zoolander’s life piles on one tragedy after another. The rest of the film doesn’t have much more wit or cleverness: the fashion industry satire feels perfunctory, and writer/director/star Ben Stiller’s performance, in either one of his three realms, isn’t much more than serviceable. The rest of the film is hit-and-miss, some mildly amusing jokes being dragged down by the rest of the film’s scatter-shot approach. It may be that it’s impossible to re-bottle what had made the first film click—it may also be an acknowledgement that the first film’s success was specific to a certain audience, and that I’m not part of it any longer. No matter the reason, Zoolander 2 still feels like a disappointment, and another entry in the growing list of examples showing why it’s often better to leave comedy classics alone.
(In theaters, October 2001) Some comedies act a lot like mirrors, reflecting to us our own attitudes toward the film. If, say, you expect Zoolander to be dumb, well, it will be. If you expect it to be clever, it’ll be clever. It’s one of those stupid comedies by clever people, so deeper levels of comedy are available if ever the surface slapstick isn’t for you. As a spoof of the modeling world, it certainly reaches its target with the character of vacuous Derek Zoolander. Ben Stiller is as good as always as an actor and his directing skills are adequate for the job. A ton of cameos complete the fun, the best one of the bunch probably being David Bowie (Tam-tam-tadam-tam!) There are a few lengthier moments in the second half as the plot dynamics are advanced. (Of course, the best laughs come in the throwaway pieces in the first half.) Not a memorable film, but one that’ll lift your spirits on a depressing day. As long as you allow it to do so.