Many will argue that a film that is supposed to be stupid cannot be written off because it is what it tries to be. However, stupid does not always, or even often, equal funny, and in the case of “Zoolander,” written, directed and starring Ben Stiller, it makes for a film containing few laughs and much head scratching. “Zoolander” follows the recent trend of every studio comedy in that it has an IQ below 30, and you will most likely be asking yourself after the film: how did Ben Stiller take the course that took him from his directorial debut, the smart, perceptive “Reality Bites” to this silly, mind numbing comedy?
“Zoolander” follows the adventures of male super-model Derek Zoolander (Stiller). Derek is the king of the catwalk, having won the male model of the year award at the VH1 Fashion Awards for three consecutive years. Derek is the stereotypical model, vain and stupid, but Derek is also an aging superstar, and new kid on the block, Hansel (Owen Wilson, “Shanghai Noon”) is prepared to eclipse Derek”s stardom. Hansel is just as stupid as Derek, but he enjoys extreme sports and adopts a Zen lifestyle. Hansel”s defeat of Derek at the VH1 Awards throws Derek into an assessment of his own life and career as a supermodel. Derek wants to discover his roots back home in Southern New Jersey, declaring, “I”m pretty sure there”s more to life than just being really, really good looking, and I plan on finding out what that is.”
But here is the part of the plot that is a little tricky to comprehend, so follow along closely if you can. Derek”s retirement has caused a damper in the plans of fashion designer Jacobim Mugatu (Will Ferrell). It seems that the new prime minister of Malaysia is being elected based on his anti-child labor views, and the fashion industry, particularly Mugatu, who has many sweatshops in the country, view the new executive as a threat. And since male models have been behind every known assassination of the past 200 years (don”t ask), Derek has been picked to off the new president. Also in on the conspiracy is Derek”s agent Maury Ballstein (Jerry Stiller, Ben”s dad) and Mugatu”s assistant Katinka (Milla Jovovich).
Taking two whole paragraphs to explain this film”s plot is too much a compliment for Stiller”s script, but there is one more character who must be introduced: Matilda Jeffries (Christine Taylor, Ben”s wife). Matilda is a Time magazine reporter investigating the world of modeling and is especially interested in the mysterious Mugatu. Along the way, actually in the middle of a giant orgy featuring Swedish dwarves and a Buddhist monk, Derek falls in love with her.
For his main cast and a non-stop series of cameos, Stiller has brought together all his family, friends and even acquaintances. These random appearances make for some of the most enjoyable scenes from the film. David Bowie is obviously the only person who could referee a “Walk-Off” between Derek and Hansel, Billy Zane does his best to deter confrontational Derek from the showdown with Hansel, Natalie Portman proclaims that Derek is just too good looking to date and Fred Durst is one of the many who enjoy the final catwalk appearance for Derek as he fights the mind controlling power of the “80s dance hit “Relax” as it tells him to kill the Prime Minister.
The strange thing about “Zoolander” is that as bad as it may be, you still sit through the film trying as hard as you can to enjoy it. At this time, this country needs a great comedy where you can leave your brain at home and just enjoy yourself for a couple hours. Stiller is not attempting to make “Godfather” or “2001: A Space Odyssey” here (although he parodies both films, one successfully and one not), he just wants you to laugh at the stupidity of his character and the situations around him. Occasionally, he is successful, especially in scenes involving both Stiller and Wilson, but most of the time the jokes fall flat. This usually occurs when the film tries to parody itself by being so bad that it is actually funny, but it constantly just comes off as lackluster filmmaking.
If you do go see “Zoolander,” take a careful look at the shots of the New York skyline even though the film was shot months ago, the World Trade Center towers are missing. After the recent tragic events, the filmmakers had the towers digitally edited out. While it may seem weird to not see the towers in certain shots where you know they belong, it would most certainly make you feel weirder if they were there.