An apparent bid to be the next "Austin Powers," with a painfully out-of-touch,
but lovable, doofus who mistakens himself for being cool, Ben Stiller's
"Zoolander" has little charm and not nearly enough big laughs to sustain
its withering plot and quick 85-minute running time. Based on a skit that
Stiller created for the VH1 Music Awards, this good-spirited, shallow
comedy plays like another failed attempt at an "SNL" sketch-turned-movie
that exits your brain the second you exit the theater auditorium.
Derek Zoolander (Ben Stiller) is the world's top male model, a man-child
who refuses to accept that he may not be the hottest, or most talented,
guy in America. His fears get the best of him when new rising model Hansel
(Owen Wilson) begins to steal some of his thunder, starting with an upset
win at a fashion awards show. So preoccupied in proving that he isn't a
soon-to-be has-been, Derek is oblivious when fashion mogul Mugatu (Will
Ferrell) sets his sights on the simpleton to be the victim of a brainwashing
effort to assassinate the Prime Minister of Malaysia. Luckily, he has
pretty news reporter Matilda Jeffries (Christine Taylor) on his side to
uncover the truth.
A satiric spoof of the fashion industry, "Zoolander" has its moments, but
nothing more. Aside from a pricelessly funny sequence involving an orgy
and Finnish dwarves, most of the jokes flash by at a lightning speed,
and while it is easy to recognize their potential, they tend to fall flat.
Writer-director-actor Ben Stiller (along with coscreenwriters Drake Sather
and John Hamburg) have done an admirable job in developing the thin
sketch material beyond its limits, but the execution of the comedy feels
weirdly off at almost every turn.
The protagonist of Derek Zoolander is a dimwit character who never grows
beyond his shallow roots, and so it is difficult to care about what
happens to him. Ben Stiller (2000's "Meet the Parents") clearly has a
ball playing him, though, in the type of role he has never had the chance
to perform before. As his competition in the male model world, Owen Wilson
(1999's "The Haunting") enjoyably camps it up, but, not to seem shallow,
the actor's crooked, misshaped nose distracts from a character who is
supposed to be physically flawless. Stiller's real-life wife Christine
Taylor (1998's "The Wedding Singer") is fetching as Derek's possible love
interest, Matilda, as she refuses to let the boys have all the fun, while
Will Ferrell (2001's "Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back") turns in another
rousingly comic tour de force. Only Milla Jovovich (1999's "He Got Game")
is bad, awfully vamping it up as Mubatu's scheming Natasha-like partner.
"Zoolander" comes filled to the hilt with cheesily fun '80s pop hits, such
as "Relax," by Frankie Goes to Hollywood, and "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go,"
by Wham!, but they proves only a minor positive distraction from the
relative emptiness of the material. The film tries too hard to be a
crowd-pleasing, youth-oriented comedy, with a final product that isn't
nearly as clever as it wants to be.
Copyright © 2001 Dustin Putman