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movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Zoolander

Starring: Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson
Director: Ben Stiller
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 90 Minutes
Release Date: September 2001
Genre: Comedy

*Also starring: Christine Taylor, Will Ferrell, Jerry Stiller, Milla Jovovich, David Duchovny, Fabio, David Bowie, Lenny Kravitz, Natalie Portman, Billy Zane

Review by Harvey Karten
No Rating Supplied

We wear clothes not only to keep warm and preserve our modesty but to make a statement. For quite a while, young women in the U.S. wore jeans torn at the kneecaps, presumably to show their solidarity with the poor; a statement not only patronizing but downright ridiculous. Women in Afghanistan must cover every part of their bodies except their eyes by order of the Taliban government, a statement not only of modesty but of religious belief, at least as interpreted by the rulers in Kabul. Nowadays some young people pierce their navels, their tongues, their eyebrows and more, to show...I don't what...but in any case that's additional evidence that what we wear often has little to do with our need for warmth or rational expression. The fashion industry in America makes sure that styles change frequently, thus filling the coffers of the corporations, but the most extreme illustration of pretentiousness involves the clothes worn by fashion modes, who show off their designers' ego by donning raiments shown in stores in the most fashionable boutiques. The enterprise is ripe for satire. Director Ben Stiller pushes parody in "Zoolander," so called because that is the name of its principal character, Derek Zoolander (Ben Stiller).

The movie has quite a few laughs, but at 85 minutes outwears its welcome with redundancies. "Zoolander" is more a series of sketches about yet another version of Dumb and Dumber, played respectively by Owen Wilson in the role of male model Hansel and Ben Stiller as the title character. Derek Zoolander is the country's most famous male model, having won the distinction three years consecutively, but like many other models (at least according to Drake Sather, Ben Stiller and John Hamburg's screenplay), he is an empty vessel. He is chosen by a group of conspirators who could have come out of a James Bond movie to assist, unknowingly, in the assassination of Malaysia's (uncredited) prime minister, an official who has promised to raise the wages paid to those who put the clothing together. A wage increase would seriously dampen profits of the clothing industry i America presided over by Mugatu (Will Ferrell, wearing an absurd hair style and carrying a small white poodle throughout he story). As Zoolander takes part in the modeling of Mugatu's Derelicte" collection--actually a glorification of the outfits worn by homeless people in urban streets--he is unwittingly aiding in the political assassination.

Director Stiller could have used its lampoon to explore the actual exploitation of people in the Third World, who must resent the very well-to-do Americans for whom they are making their clothing. But the picture, unfortunately, in no way seeks to do what iconoclastic filmmaker Michael Moore achieved in his faux documentary, "The Big One," which took aim at the Nike company for paying starvation wages to the Indonesians who sew the running shoes together. (30,000 Indonesia workers put together make less than one American on the Nike payroll, Michael Jordan, who makes 20 million or so a year simply for endorsing the product.)

Still, "Zoolander" has some laughs to offer, especially beneficial to those who believe that in these challenging, post-World Trade Center times we need broad-comedy-hold-the-satire. Some cute gags involve the founding of a "Center for Children Who Can't Read Good" and the action taken with a computer to release incriminating files. A father-son dialogue between Ben and Jerry (Stiller) is effective and a New Jersey joke is not without good fun.

Copyright 2001 Harvey Karten

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