“Zoolander 2” is an absolute mess of a movie. Coming 15 years after the original, it almost feels more like a remake than a sequel. The plot familiarly follows vain, stupid and really, really ridiculously good-looking male models Derek Zoolander (Ben Stiller, “Night at the Museum”) and Hansel (Owen Wilson, “Midnight in Paris”). They’re back to, yet again, battle the evil Mugatu (Will Ferrell, “Daddy’s Home”) to save the fashion world. But this time, it’s personal. Mugatu plans on killing Zoolander’s son because since he’s directly descended from the first ever male model, his blood is essentially the fountain of youth. If the plot feels familiar, that’s because it’s more or less the plot of the original.
The only surprise in “Zoolander 2” is the number of celebrity cameos. Most of the cast is credited as playing themselves, and most seem to be nothing but distractions from the boring and repetitive plot. Surprisingly, the most successful cameos are delivered by Justin Bieber and Neil deGrasse Tyson. The film opens with a strong and funny bit in which Bieber is brutally murdered but stays alive long enough to post a final selfie. Some are tragically underdeveloped, like Kiefer Sutherland (“24”) as a member of Hansel’s communal polyamorous relationship. And most, like a promising yet disappointing Benedict Cumberbatch (“The Imitation Game”) as a trendy, androgynous model, are just filler for a very empty movie. The only way “Zoolander 2” surprises its audience is by making them say, “I can’t believe that guy would be in this movie.”
This sort of over-the-top satire of male modeling was daring in 2001 when the idea of male vanity was still taboo. However, in a world of Biebers, Kanyes and men who get famous taking selfies on Instagram, that humor feels a little outdated. The fashion world is still ripe for a satirical takedown, but doing so through the lens of male modeling is no longer effective. “Zoolander 2” dips its toe in humor pointed at other aspects of the industry — the world’s biggest designers help orchestrate a ritual sacrifice promising to unleash the fountain of youth. But because Marc Jacobs and Anna Wintour play themselves (and are therefore clearly in on the joke), they serve to only further the satire of Derek and Hansel rather than provide a vehicle by which to poke fun at other aspects of the fashion world. Unfortunately, the movie decides to remain too derivative of the original and gets itself stuck making the same jokes about the same people.
For a movie barely longer than ninety minutes, there is a lot going on. So much so, that it feels like a movie of subplots, with no driving storyline. There’s an underdeveloped bit about Derek’s reconciliation with his son (newcomer Cyrus Arnold). The plot that seems to set the film in motion — someone is killing all the good-looking people in the world — is all but abandoned by the halfway mark. “Zoolander 2” needs at least another hour to complete everything it sets out to do, but knows its audience could not stand a minute more.
“Zoolander 2” is so bad it almost retroactively ruins the original. It’s a soulless, charmless tangle of a movie relying too heavily on the cult success of its predecessor. The humor falls flat, the characters are dislikable at best and the plot simply doesn’t exist. The most satisfying moment of “Zoolander 2” is when the credits start to roll.