Starring: Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson, Will Ferrell, Christine Taylor, Jerry Stiller, Milla Jovovich, Jon Voight, David Duchovny
Director: Ben Stiller
Maybe watching “Zoolander” in 2005 is an exercise in futility. Ben Stiller had set the bar quite high with “Meet the Parents” and “There’s Something About Mary” in the years previous to the release of “Zoolander” and he further enhanced his reputation with “Starsky and Hutch”, “Meet the Fockers”, “Dodgeball” and “Duplex”. Hey, I enjoyed “Duplex”!
Anyways, the boy is entertaining to say the least and he (once again) teams up with bosom-buddy Owen Wilson in a movie that’s not so much a satire of the fashion industy, but more an over-the-top look at any number of individual airhead male models that are floating around out there.
Stiller plays Derek Zoolander, Male Model of the Year for three years running, infamous for his famous ‘looks’ including ‘Blue Steel’, ‘Le Tigre’ and ‘Ferrari’. But things start to unravel for the catwalk veteran. His close friends and fellow male models (Todd, Brint, Meekus and Rufus) all perish in an avoidable fuel explosion, Time magazine journalist Matilda (Taylor – “Dodgeball”, “The Wedding Singer”, “The Craft”) has labeled him ‘a model idiot’ in the latest issue, and his throne is under threat from new kid on the block, Worzel Gummidge-haired Hansel (Wilson). Unknown to him he is also about to become an assassin, secretly brainwashed to assassinate the Malaysian Prime Minister who has infuriated the fashion industry by aiming to abolish child labour in his country.
So there’s your plot – utterly ridiculous. And of course that part of the deal doesn’t really matter as long as the jokes are good. And you know what? They’re not really that good. The Zoolander character is of course intentionally dumb, I mean really dumb. Derek decides to quit the fashion industry and dedicate his life to helping people. One of his ideas is to set up a ‘center for kids who can’t read good’. When famous fashion designer Mugatu (Ferrell – “Anchorman”, “Old School”) promises him that he’ll build ‘The center for kids who can’t read good and want to do other stuff good too’ and shows him a model of the future building, Zoolander smashes it to bits and asks how kids can be expected to learn how to read when they can’t even fit in to the building. A valid point, Mugatu agrees, exasperated.
There are numerous long-winded scenes that are not that amusing including a ‘walk off’ between Zoolander and Hansel – the presence of David Bowie the only thing that brings anything redeeming to those five minutes. The numerous cameos (an indicator of Stiller’s standing in Hollywood these days – he directs the movie), are mildly interesting. Billy Zane does a tough guy thing for a minute or two, Fred Durst gives a thumbs up, Christian Slater and Paris Hilton pay homage to Zoolander, and the likes of Donald Trump, Claudia Schiffer, Lenny Kravitz and Garry Shandling can be seen along the way too.
Stiller’s direction, since I mentioned it, his third attempt on the big screen (“The Cable Guy”, “Reality Bites” – neither well received), is really a little flat. I also suspect it distracted him from building a strong character in Zoolander as he really doesn’t convince. It feels a little bit too ‘by numbers’ for my liking, always going for the easy joke, which arguably Stiller can’t make pay off as well as, say, Leslie Nielsen can in “The Naked Gun” movies.
Wilson is ok but again the character is fairly flaccid. Christine Taylor plays the love interest and she’s subsequently made herself a near-constant in Stiller/Wilson movies since. She turns out to be quite important to the sanity of the viewer as she frequently points out to Zoolander just how idiotic male models are. Ben’s real life dad, Jerry (Frank Costanza in TVs “Seinfeld”), plays his manager Maury and has a few inspired moments where he gets to yell a lot. Star of the show is the OTT-character Mugatu played by Will Ferrell. In perhaps the best fashion pastiche in the movie, his look is part-Ming the Merciless, part-James Bond bad guy.
While Zoolander is watchable it also has to be termed a let-down. Maybe Stiller’s behind-the-camera duties preoccupied him – or maybe the film just isn’t that funny.