3 stars (out of 4)
Justin Bieber is shot to death in the opening scene, yet not before he takes a pouty selfie and posts it on Instagram.
Right then and there, it’s delightfully clear this absurd comedy means serious business. Killing off a bratty pop star within the first five minutes is just a starting point. Soon, Susan Sarandon will take part in an orgy. And Benedict Cumberbatch will pop up looking like a lost extra from Avatar.
So if you’re concerned that Zoolander 2, like 99 percent of comedy sequels, is a lame, cameo-stacked and bloated retread, be like Frankie and relax: Ben Stiller’s much-anticipated follow-up to his 2001 mini-classic is ridiculously funny. Stupid and unnecessary … but funny.
A whopping 15 years have passed since we last saw super-vapid and super-vain model Derek Zoolander. The Blue Steel master had just opened his Center for Kids Who Can’t Read Good and Who Wanna Learn to Do Other Stuff Good Too. He had a new wife, Matilda, and a son, Derek Jr. Only Tyson Beckford had it better.
Sadly, we learn the building soon collapsed into NYC’s East River. Matilda was found dead in the wreckage. He lost custody of Derek Jr. Depressed and humiliated, Derek retreated to the frozen tundra of extreme northern New Jersey and announced he was going to become a “hermit crab.” He comes out of hiding when he’s asked to strut in a fashion show in Rome. Over on a remote Malibu beach, Derek’s rival turned cohort Hansel (Owen Wilson) has turned to a quiet life of meditation and tantric sex. He receives the same invite.
Could this be a coincidence? Did Derek arch an eyebrow on the cover of Vogue?
Somehow, this overseas excursion is tied to Derek’s estranged adolescent son (now residing in an Italian orphanage), the fountain of youth, the assassination of pop stars, Sting and the sinister Mugatu (Will Ferrell, still a standout).
The fashion division of the Italian Interpol (led by a former swimsuit model played by Penélope Cruz) is already on the case. And they want Derek and Hansel to help crack it. Somehow, this plan is tied to Sting, confronting Mugatu in prison and attending the ultra-exclusive Incredi-Ball.
Zoolander languished at the box office when it landed in theaters in the wake of 9/11. It wasn’t until its video release that people lapped up the goofy adventures of Derek and his fellow male models. And despite its dated pop-culture jokes (RIP, the VHI Fashion Awards), the movie has aged fairly well. Indeed, one of the most clever gags in this go-round is that Derek remains stuck in the 2001 zone. Just check out his teeny-tiny flip phone and his continued un-ironic devotion to actor Billy Zane.
And just like in the original, the jokes fly at breakneck pace — usually poking fun at the models’ insipidness. Derek and Hansel still can’t read good or follow a plan. Cowriter and director Stiller, who comes from a sketch-comedy background, knows to keep the scenes snappy. When a set piece doesn’t quite work, he moves right along. And if a sequence — say, Derek and Hansel mocking Derek Jr.’s weight gain — really flounders? Well, a new montage set to “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” can work wonders.
The same philosophy goes for the head-spinning parade of star cameos. Some of them are effective — such as Susan Boyle walking through an airport and Katie Couric flashing back to her Today-show era. Others are gratuitous (Katy Perry, why). And a few of them pass so quickly that you won’t even catch them. (Is that Ariana Grande?!) But the appearances are zippy and self-effacing. And while Anna Wintour isn’t exactly an ace at comic timing, how amusing to see her poke fun at herself and her industry. (Fear not, the roughly 43 other cameos shall remain a secret.)
Even the Vogue editrix herself would admit that a fashion world spoof isn’t quite as fresh in 2016. But Magnum-sized laughs never go out of style.
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