review by Elias Savada, 28 September 2001

"I'm pretty sure there's more to life than just watching a really, really silly movie, and I plan on finding out what that is."

Thus says one intrepid film critic, rephrasing one of the many nitwitted maxims uttered by infantile Derek Zoolander and his fellow empty-headed male models. Director-writer-star Ben Stiller has declared dumb-down war on the fashion industry's suave strutter-boys in this big screen upgrade to the mindless 1996 VH1/Vogue Fashion Awards character he co-created with MTV Movie Awards writer-producer Drake Sather (who shares screenwriting and story credit). Derek, the glamour-puss poser de rigueur and Male Model of the Year three times running has the hottest expression in the biz ("He's almost too good looking," offers up Natalie Portman, one of the many campy celebrity cameos that pepper the film). Yet his world-renown, sullenly vacant "blue steel" is showing signs of rigor mortis, and his fans and fashionistas are aching for his new façade "magnum," a running gag, work-in-progress mug shot that finally makes an opportune debut at a fashionably climactic moment. Zoolander is a masquerade spy caper for the cognitively challenged. Austin Powers for the hard-edged, youngish twenty-first-century masses, although not nearly as embraceable or charming as that spy spoof in search of a wider audience. The laughter you hear emanating from your belly is book-ended by loud guttural groans and repetitive eyeball wanderings. Perhaps all these variables can be explained by some well respected physicist in a hypothetically elegant equation:

humor eye of the beholder  =  (outlandish sight gags + childish verbal barbs)* IQ
 grunts because you're laughing + π – eye rolls

Bear in mind this is only a theory. And I have not factored in the historically superficial predecessors such as Mike Meyers, Jim Carrey, Adam Sandler, Spinal Tap, and a host of other dimwitted—and more successful—satirical ancestors. Zoolander stands just below the middle of the crowd of "this-in-not-a-cerebral comedy" genre, no better, no worse. It is eye candy aimed at the vacuous throes of our society, those legions who are clueless about technology, left turns, and how Starbucks orange mocha Frappuccino® might seriously affect your driving habits. If you laughed at the stupidity that has spawned such tech support urban legends—including the true one about the person who broke the "4x cupholder" on his/her computer—then you might get a kick out of how Derek and his "stone"-y-eyed competitor Hansel (Owen Wilson) attempt to get some secret files out of an Apple iMac. 

The slender plotline involves a hypnotic plot to assassinate the prime minister of Malaysia (what, no fictional country?), a humanitarian figure intent on wiping out child labor practices, miraculously regaled with a front-row seat for the annual VH1 awards show. Huh? Well, that's the short story. I won't go into the long one, as there isn't one, except for that thin connection with the "accidental" deaths of all those pre-thirty macho supermodels.

Mixing conspiracy themes not dissimilar to those found in The Manchurian Candidate, Soylent Green, and even the obscure Wild in the Streets (a ludicrous 1968 drama in which anyone over thirty-five is sent to retirement camps and fed a stream of hallucinogens), Derek Zoolander, with an assist from "humorless" Time Magazine journalist Matilda Jeffries (Christine "Marcia, Marcia, Marcia" Taylor, a.k.a. Mrs. Ben Stiller), is cold on the trail of a dim secret behind why there are no male models who live past a certain age. Popping up with a few lines to force feed the story along is television's former ace of government/alien conspiracy theory David Duchovny, again spoofing his former character and offering one of the few genuine chuckles escaping from yours truly. Frenetic SNL performer Will Ferrell is the freakish, curly-haired Mugatu—evidently the illegitimate offspring of Colonel Sanders—once the inventor of the piano key necktie and a now a raging queen in fashion design circles (Coming soon…Derelicte, the haughtiest line in wretched excess). As the mannequin of several mysterious dark suits espousing the rag trade's need for those young, cheap, foreign fingers, he plots with Milla Jovovich's Katinka to brainwash the feeble-minded hero. Ben's dad Jerry does his shtick as Maury Ballstein, Derek's womanizing agent who is obliquely tied into the plot.

Stiller's vanity salute to popular culture's moronic simpleton sub-genre will undoubtedly tickle some viewers' funny bones with goofy gratification. For others, it will fall flatter than a buzz cut. Zoolander flits from one forced gag to the next, be it an animated masculine "walk-off" between Derek and nemesis Hansel (as refereed by David Bowie), the doltish Derek mistaking bulimia for the ability to read minds, or a frenzied, enlightened orgy involving the three principals, two Finish dwarves, and a Maori tribesman.

In that momentary pause at the end of Zoolander's runway, it's time to stare off into the crowd and see if anyone's laughing.

Directed by:
Ben Stiller

Ben Stiller
Owen Wilson
Will Ferrell
Christine Taylor
Milla Jovovich
Jerry Stiller
Jon Voight

Written by:
Drake Sather
Ben Stiller
John Hamburg

R - Restricted
Under 17 requires
accompanying parent
or adult guardian..







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