A few years ago I wrote an incoherent, rambling filler article™ on the 2001 fashion-based comedy Zoolander. In 2013, I could hardly describe that article as timely or relevant, or even very good, but having just reread it I can say that I made one really solid point. Zoolander is, by genre, a stupid comedy. I argue—a little too briefly—in that review that it is an astoundingly smart stupid comedy. That is, the plot is stupid, the characters are stupid, everything is stupid, but the jokes are smart. They are clever, creative, and none of them are mean-spirited. It’s hard not to love that.
Well, a little while ago someone announced the development of a sequel to Zoolander. Now, making sequels to comedies years and years after the original came out has been proven, time and time again, to be a bad idea. In fact, making comedy sequels in general seems like a bad idea at this point, with few exceptions. Though hesitant, I realized that there was still hope for a Zoolander sequel. I figured the one thing that would make or break the movie was the title. If they called it Zoolander 2 there would be no hope whatsoever. If they named it 2oolander, it might just work out.
Zoolander 2 (2016)
The Plot: Fifteen years after the conclusion of the first movie, Derek Zoolander (Ben Stiller) is living as a hermit after his Center for Kids Who Can’t Read Good collapsed into the East River. When the world’s most beautiful pop stars are assassinated all while making Derek’s signature face Blue Steel, he and his compadre Hansel (Owen Wilson) must team up with Interpol’s Fashion Division (headed by Penélope Cruz) to infiltrate the fashion community and get to the bottom of this horrible mystery.
It was incredibly difficult for me to write that plot summary. It’s incredibly difficult for me to write this whole article, because it forces me to deliberately think about Zoolander 2, and no one should have to suffer such a fate, so let’s try to keep this short. Okay. The jokes in Zoolander are clever, creative, and not mean. The jokes in Zoolander 2 are dumb, lazy, and mean. Now, I generally don’t like mean-spirited jokes, but there are ways to make them work. In general, it boils down to whether we are laughing with or laughing at. Even more important and more basic than that, though, is the fact that you can get away with pretty much anything if you’re at least being funny. I laughed a couple times during Zoolander 2, although I think most of those instances were forced pity-laughs, wrought from embarrassment, confusion, and disappointment.
I’ve seen a lot of bad movies, and a lot of disappointing sequels, but there’s something undeniably tragic about the degree to which and the way in which Zoolander 2 is bad. Obviously, I know Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson can do better than this. When you combine an uncharacteristic failure with a fifteen-years-too-late sequel, you can’t help but feel like there’s a certain amount of “Glory Days” in the mix here, like they’ve become so out of touch with their art that they’ve forgotten what made it good in the first place. I felt embarrassed on behalf of everyone who was involved with the making of this movie, and that’s a butt load of people. Taking a page from various other unsuccessful comedy sequels, Zoolander 2 has an outrageous number of celebrity cameos. Joining Stiller, Wilson, Cruz, Will Farrell, and Kristin Wiig are Sting, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Justin Bieber, Susan Sarandon, Olivia Munn, Justin Theroux, Benedict Cumberbatch, Katy Perry, Demi Lovato, Milla Jovovich, Jerry Stiller, Kiefer Sutherland, John Malkovich, Fred Armisen, Lenny Kravitz, Joe Jonas, Naomi Campbell, Kate Moss, Susan Boyle, Katie Couric, Valentino Garavani, M.C. Hammer, Shrillex, and, most tragically of all, the great Billy Zane. Silly celebrity cameos are a cornerstone of the Stupid Comedy Genre, but there is an inverse correlation between the number of cameos you have and the quality of your movie. I just named twenty-four people, and I deliberately left some names out to save space. That’s too many cameos. At that point, you’re obviously trying to compensate for something.
What are they trying to compensate for? How fucking terrible their movie is.
Pardon my French.