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18 Feb 2016

A Model Mess: 'Zoolander 2' Is the Worst Film Ben Stiller Has Ever Done

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Owen Wilson, Ben Stiller and Penelope Cruz in Zoolander 2. Owen Wilson, Ben Stiller and Penelope Cruz in Zoolander 2.

A bad film sticks in the craw more when it’s made by somebody capable of genius.

Ben Stiller is one of the great modern-day comedic actors. He started, more or less, with The Ben Stiller Show, a project that basically gave birth to Mr. Show and Tenacious D. The man is directly or indirectly responsible for about 78 percent of the laughter that has come out of my face over the last 24 years. As a director, he started with a clunker (Reality Bites), but followed it up with an underrated gem, The Cable Guy. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is much better than it gets credit for, and Tropic Thunder is a bad-taste masterpiece.

Of all the comic creations Stiller has come up with and directed, Zoolander is the most bothersome. It’s a skit that wasn’t funny in the first place—stretched into a feature that feels flat and in-jokey. Well, Stiller has returned for another shot of unneeded male-model parody with Zoolander 2—and it’s far and away the worst thing he’s ever done. It’s so bad that it’s a formidable if early contender for 2016’s worst film. It represents Stiller at his most lost and foundering.

It’s 15 years after the events of the 2001 original, and Derek Zoolander is living a hermit’s life in remote New Jersey, mourning the loss of his wife (Christine Taylor) after the Derek Zoolander Center for Kids Who Can’t Read Good and Who Wanna Learn to Do Other Stuff Good Too collapsed and crushed her to death.

Note to Stiller: Zoolander came out just a couple of weeks after Sept. 11, and will be forever associated with that event in the minds of many, because the Twin Towers had to be digitally removed from the film. Is it really a funny idea to have your wife’s character killed in a New York City building collapse that takes place in 2001? I didn’t laugh, so I’ve answered my own question.

Meanwhile, Hansel (Owen Wilson) is living a secluded life in the “deserts of Malibu” with his orgy family (including a very sensitive Kiefer Sutherland). He’s visited by a message-delivering Billy Zane and goes on a quest to find Derek. Unfortunately, he succeeds in finding him, and a boring comic duo gets another chapter.

A search for Derek’s son and some other nonsense leads them to Rome and an eventual showdown with fashion bad guy, Mugatu (Will Ferrell). The Mugatu subplot feels tacked on, as if they only had Ferrell for a week. Ferrell is given close to nothing to work with, forcing him to mug for his paycheck.

At times, the film feels like a total rip-off of Austin Powers, with Zoolander and Hansel becoming spies; Penélope Cruz stepping in as the tightly clad female sidekick; and a daddy-issues subplot involving Zoolander’s long-lost son. Mugatu is something of a sad riff on Dr. Evil.

The first half-hour of the movie is actually less than terrible. Benedict Cumberbatch shows up as a hauntingly androgynous model called All who has married himself, and Derek’s comeback when somebody calls him a narcissist is the best line in the movie. So … I laughed twice.

There are too many cameos to count, many of them by fashion icons most of us could not care less about. When a big moment in your movie hinges upon the dramatic talents of Tommy Hilfiger, you’ve got a problem. Did I mention the great Kristen Wiig is in the movie, too? No, I didn’t—because her bizarre character is something that needs to be forgotten.

Stiller got lazy and perhaps a little distracted with Zoolander 2. He needs to get his edge back after this tremendous miscue.

Zoolander 2 is playing at theaters across the valley.

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