By Nick Anstett
Comedy sequels have an undeniably poor track record. There are few franchises that have larger drops in quality than “Caddyshack” and its best if forgotten 1988 sequel. When Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson announced the production of a sequel to their 2001 hit “Zoolander” in the middle of Paris Fashion Week one couldn’t help but be a tad excited. “Zoolander” was never a critical smash hit, but its entertaining performances and screwball plot made it something of a minor cult hit. With the same talent on board things seemed destined to achieve some level of quality, right? One couldn’t be more wrong.
It has been 15 years since Derek Zoolander (Ben Stiller) foiled an assassination attempt on the prime minister of Malaysia. Following an incident that led to the death of his wife, Christine Taylor (Matilda Jeffries) and lost him the custody of his son Derek Jr. (Cyrus Arnold), Zoolander has retreated from society and given up his career as a model. When a series of international popstars are murdered with apparent connections to Zoolander, Interpol drags him back into the fray along with his former friend/rival Hans (Owen Wilson).
On the surface it is hard to tell where exactly “Zoolander 2” falls apart. The basic answer would be at its start, but why exactly this Stiller directed sequel is such an utter, humorless trainwreck isn’t really clear even hours after its completion. At first, everything about “Zoolander 2” seems to be doing things right. It brings back its principal cast members, introduces a plot that plays off similar elements of its predecessor, and the jokes themselves are delivered in the same tone and style as its original. On paper, it seems as faithful a sequel as one can manage.
The result is just something approaching unwatchable. For all its rapid fire gags thrown at the camera, there are close to none that elicit more than an amused smirk and certainly none close to some of the quotable interludes of idiocy present in its predecessor. It might simply be that “Zoolander” was simply a product of its time and that its brand of simpleton based humor is not nearly as amusing in 2016 as it was in 2001. It could also be that it relies too hard on its predecessor for good will and payoff for its jokes, or too frequently on celebrity cameos for the sole purpose of recognition rather than comedic payoff.
Not that plot is an essential aspect to the sort of movie that “Zoolander 2” wishes to be, but the script Stiller, Justin Theroux, Nicholas Stoller, and John Hamburg wrote is so poorly constructed that it borders on being incomprehensible. Its central conspiracy plotline never seems to find a direction that it wants to commit to and at times openly and frequently contradicts itself. Again, this sort of lapse in internal logic may even be welcomed if it were simply a springboard to lead to more laugh-out-loud sight gags, slap stick, or character moments, but “Zoolander 2” fails to provide these in almost every manner possible.
“Zoolander 2’s” biggest failure instead, comes in the form of Derek Jr. when he is introduced as the crux of the movie’s emotional arc and the motivation to get Zoolander back into the fray. Unfortunately, the movie never really makes the case for why Zoolander and Derek Jr. should reunite in the first place. Chief among these problems is a woefully misdirected and irritating performance by Arnold. Arnold spends much of the film angsting away against his supposedly absent father and delivering poorly timed angry snarks and eye rolls. Every scene that Arnold is privy to drags, sputters, and further damns a movie that was already well on its way to the cinematic toilet.
“Zoolander 2” is a comedic slog. Every ounce of its celluloid existence is devoid of the heart, wit, or even off-the-cuff strangeness to prove worthy of anyone’s time. The only good news? Maybe the franchise will stay dead for another 15 years.