The first Zoolander movie came out fifteen years ago. It was very stupid, and it was also pretty funny. Watching the trailers before last night’s screening of Zoolander 2, all of them for movies of surpassing stupidity, I wondered if the movie we were there to see would manage to be even stupider than the movies being previewed. Obviously, we’d have to see all those other movies to make that call. Still, Zoolander 2 is astonishingly dumb.
It’s an interesting conundrum, isn’t it? How stupid can a movie be and still be entertaining? I’m trying to imagine some kind of Venn diagram, plotting idiotic plot points and moronic dialogue against laughs generated. But here’s the real question. If you believe, as I do, that comedy derives from truth, that we find things funny because, at some level, we also think they’re true, then where is the truth at the heart of Zoolander 2? Because, I have to confess it: I laughed a lot.
Well, okay. The movie starts with an action sequence; a guy running from two motorcyle-riding assassins. He’s elusive, plus they’re unconscionably terrible shots. It’s a typical movie action sequence, just exaggerated enough to also be pretty funny. Finally, one of the motorcycles corners our hero. He takes off his headgear. He’s Justin Bieber. And then the killer opens up with a machine gun, and shoots Bieber. Many many many times. And as Bieber’s body jerks around from multiple gunshot wounds, it seems to take forever. And finally, Bieber collapses, pulls out a phone, takes a selfie, posts it on-line, and then expires.
So the truth of that scene (which was very funny, honestly) is that Justin Bieber is a narcissistic twit, which makes people hate him, which means we would cheer if we saw him shot repeatedly. And that joke, of course, only works if you’re able to persuade Justin Bieber to appear in the sequence. And, to go all meta with this, simultaneously suggesting a degree of previously unanticipated self-deprecating humor, by Bieber, about being Justin Bieber, and being therefore hated.
And that’s it. Right there; that’s the secret to this film’s humor. It’s a film that features many many cameo appearances by celebrities, each of whom makes fun of his or her own carefully constructed celebrity persona. So, Sting makes an appearance, making fun of his own persona as a ‘rock star/world-weary philosopher.’ And Kiefer Sutherland is aboard too, to make fun of his own tough guy persona. And so on. It’s not just an excuse for celebrity cameos; the cameos are central to the film’s purpose. Which is to make fun of celebrity-world.
Of course, Ben Stiller (who also wrote and directed the thing), is back, as Derek Zoolander, the terminally dim fashion model, now trying to reunite with his son, who he hasn’t seen in years. And his best friend, Hansel, played by Owen Wilson, who has also decided to settle down with his family, which consists of the eleven mismatched folks he met in an orgy. And Will Farrell is the villain of the piece, Mugatu, a designer.
There’s also a plot, sort of. It’s Biblical. It involves the Garden of Eden, Adam, Eve and Steve (androgynous third wheel), and their expulsion from paradise. The blood of Steve’s offspring, it turns out, can grant someone who drinks it eternal life; a kind of Fountain of Youth. And Zoolander’s son is The Chosen One, who needs to be ritually sacrificed, allowing a Who’s Who of fashion designers to live forever. Which means that guys like Tommy Hilfiger had to agree to appear in a film that makes fashion designers look like, literally, youth-obsessed blood sucking vampires.
Oh, there’s also Kristin Wiig, playing Alexanya Atoz, an insanely botoxed designer who speaks entirely in gibberish. And there’s Benedict Cumberbatch, playing All, a model who is the last word in androgyny. And Penelope Cruz as Valentina, a former swimsuit model-turned-cop, who helps Zoolander unravel the film’s plot.
It is, in a short, a fairly good-hearted spoof of celebrity culture and high fashion. Coming off several days of illness, it was also exactly what the doctor ordered. I don’t exactly recommend it. It is, as mentioned earlier, incredibly stupid. But sometimes stupid is fun–if that’s the mood you’re in, give it a whirl.