Zoolander 2 Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson, Penelope Cruz. Directed by Ben Stiller. Rated PG-13. Opens Friday citywide.
Ben Stiller’s original Zoolander is a remarkable 2001 pop-culture time capsule—it was even produced by the briefly existing feature-film division of VH1. Its celebrity cameos (Fred Durst, Lance Bass, Billy Zane), product showcases (super-tiny cell phone, Razor scooter) and portrayal of the fashion industry (as reported on by Steve Kmetko) are all relics of a very specific time period, and part of Zoolander’s appeal is how well it captures the ephemera of its era. It’s also a fairly funny send-up of the fashion world, with plenty of quotable lines and enjoyable performances from Stiller as moronic supermodel Derek Zoolander and Owen Wilson as his rival/best friend Hansel.
Zoolander didn’t make a ton of money at the box office, but it has become a minor cult classic, and so, 15 years later, we have Zoolander 2, willed into existence by YouTube videos and memes and Stiller’s continuously successful career. For a movie that’s been in the works for so long, though, Zoolander 2 is disappointingly slapdash, with a plot even more nonsensical than the original, performances that fail to capture what initially made the characters entertaining and a dizzying cavalcade of celebrity cameos in place of jokes.
There are so many famous people who pop up for a few seconds that Zoolander 2 is practically Celebrity Cameo: The Movie, and at around the 10th random celebrity appearance, it becomes clear that Stiller (who returns as director and co-writer) doesn’t have a clever reason for putting any of these people in the movie. Derek and Hansel are once again drawn into a high-stakes international conspiracy that happens to center around the fashion industry, but Stiller has mostly run out of satirical targets.
Kristen Wiig, one of the few celebrities in the cast not playing herself, is funny as a leathery fashion designer with an incomprehensible accent, but Penelope Cruz is a mostly useless addition as an Interpol agent who recruits Derek and Hansel to help expose the convoluted conspiracy. Stiller doesn’t know what to do with Cruz as an actual character any more than he knows what to do with Justin Bieber, Ariana Grande, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Willie Nelson, Susan Sarandon or any of the other dozens of celebrities who appear as themselves. Zoolander may have been silly, but at least it had something to be silly about; Zoolander 2 can’t even find a reason for existing.