Just plain stupid

Like reality, <i>Zoolander</i> bites.

Like reality, Zoolander bites.

Rated 2.0

After taking many years off from directing following the undeserved critical drubbing he received for The Cable Guy (a great movie), Ben Stiller gets behind the camera again and also stars in Zoolander, the story cc of a very stupid male model involved in an assassination plot.

I was hoping that this film would be stupid-funny, a lighthearted comedy in which Stiller, a master of comic timing, revels in lowbrow humor. Instead—and it’s with a very heavy heart that I write this—Stiller has made a film that is stupid indeed, but not funny, and remarkably flat for a man with his track record.

Now, I’m a Stiller fan to the highest degree, so this comes as a shock and a major disappointment. The truth is, I didn’t think the VH-1 skit on which this film is based was very funny (it represented Stiller at his lamest), and my lack of enthusiasm for the character Zoolander (played by Stiller) translates to the big screen. He’s just not that funny.

I also don’t need to see a film skewering the fashion industry, an industry that doesn’t attract much of my attention, as a visit to my T-shirt-dominated closet would reveal. This movie is definitely not for folks like me: the die-hard Stiller fan who appreciates some of his smart mimicry (his Bono and Tom Cruise are remarkable), but lists his male model spoof as his weakest moment, and that includes Mystery Men. Stiller is too intelligent for this stuff, and he doesn’t wear it well.

The plot: In an effort to curtail the banning of child labor in Malaysia, evil fashion designer Mugatu (Will Ferrell, making the most of it) is commissioned to find a stooge and brainwash him into assassinating Malaysia’s prime minister. Derek Zoolander, after making a national ass of himself at the VH-1 Fashion Awards, proves to be a viable candidate.

Arch rival male model Hansel (Owen Wilson, the funniest thing about this film) eventually teams with Derek to thwart the plot before Mugatu uses hypnosis to instruct the brainwashed Zoolander to kill the prime minister. Their investigation leads them to one of the film’s better moments, in which Derek and Hansel turn into crazed apes trying to figure out a computer in a nice tribute to 2001. This would mark one of the three or four times I actually laughed during this movie.

Other small laughs occur (Zoolander’s male model pals perishing in a gasoline fight would be one of them), but I can’t summon up many memories of big laughs directed at the Zoolander character. Hansel, Mugatu and the gasoline fight are about it for me. Jerry Stiller (Ben’s dad), normally funny, is grating as Zoolander’s sleazy agent.

The whole project is whimsical and weak. Stiller’s The Cable Guy was a risky film with intelligent satirical bite and a darkness that marked a nice change of pace for Jim Carrey. (It’s the film that allowed Carrey to cross over to more serious fare.) It was also a bomb, and Zoolander feels like Stiller has abandoned his edgier side to cash in with a franchise-type character. His edgier stuff garnered him a nice cult following, but with this one, he’s sold out for the time being. It would surprise me if he actually likes his own movie.

The film’s first weekend was a financial success, and I’m actually glad. Stiller will now get some of the directorial clout he deserves, and maybe he will carry that momentum into projects like the Rolling Stones biography film he wanted to make. I just pray that this movie is a momentary diversion, and that we are not in line for Zoolander 2.