Director: Ben Stiller
Cast: Ben Stiller, Christine Taylor, Owen Wilson, Will Ferrell, Jerry Stiller, Milla Jovovich, David Duchovny, Jon Voight
Plot: A brainless model, Derek Zoolander (Stiller) is the perfect candidate for an evil organisation to brainwash into assassinating the Malaysian prime minister.
I describe Zoolander as a bit of a see-saw film. I spent the entire running time veering from hating it to loving it. The very premise is very stereotypical early 2000s comedy – a oddball title character or universe (here the male fashion model industry) is parodied, while being thrown into a vaguely action movie plot. However, occasionally it breaks away from the predictable vehicle it is trapped in and comes out with some very original and, dare I say it, funny comedy. So it is both good and bad. Perhaps the best example is the fact it uses both a Donald Trump cameo and a David Bowie cameo.
In all honesty, when Stiller gets going, his finely-tuned comedy routine as Derek Zoolander, doesn’t need the ridiculous action movie plot. I think it can be hard to fully get on board with a lot of Stiller’s characters (and Ferrell’s, for that instance), in this day and age, because there are quite a few of them out there. Their character arcs always tend to bleed into each other as well. Zoolander is an idiot who has an identity crisis and attempts something outlandish to find out who he really is. It is hard not to compare Zoolander with the more subtle, but just as soul-searching as lead in Tropic Thunder. Walter Mitty wasn’t an idiot, but his journey mirrors Zoolander’s. You get the idea… Zoolander, however, deserves recommendation. The joke is that while Stiller might be going on this emotional character arc, finding love, forgiving rivals and discovering truth, much like other Stiller roles, the depth of his soul-searching is non-existent. Zoolander is such a shallow, mindless character, obsessed with his looks and fashion, that his end goal isn’t so much breaking into a selfless moral idol, but catching up with the rest of the world. There is a neat snide remark hiding in the build-up to the end joke that self-obsessed celebrities wanting to be an idol for the deprived children out there are actually very damaging and detrimental, rather than being helpful in the slightest. Whenever the character begins to make any headway towards becoming a better person, he comes out with something so downright idiotic, that you cannot help but cave into the humour. The way he pronounces ‘eulogy’, some of this unimaginative comebacks, his reaction when he sees a model of a potential academy for under-privileged kids… When Zoolander kicked off, with some easy jokes aimed at male models too stupid to function by themselves, I was expecting two hours of my life wasted. I came away moderately impressed.
It still underachieves. It is just the action movie side of things that frustrates me. It acts as a good way to keep the plot moving, but when the story fully embraces it, it just feels out of place and forced. Will Ferrell goes for broke, but sadly gets lost in the farcical plot. He fares better than Jovovich, who is painted as a Russian henchwoman, drawling stereotypical one-liners and randomly being sexualised as a dominatrix, because that’s what Hollywood thinks Russian women are. A much better movie would have scrapped the conspiracy plot (albeit at the expense of missing out on a well-placed cameo from a conspiracy TV icon), and simply filmed Stiller interacting with the model world. Christine Taylor’s journalist would have been prying into their lives, rather than searching for a hidden conspiracy, and we could have gone from there. There are enough strong scenes to hold that movie together. The underground catwalk club was a scene of pure brilliance. Owen Wilson fits his dreamy moron character so well, you would think he was biologically designed to play the part. However, as it stands, it is worth checking out for the laughs. Not entirely sure it lends itself to a sequel, but that is a review for another day…
Final Verdict: Trapped in a self-destructive formula, but Ben Stiller’s charm and wit breaks through.