Surprisingly funny Stiller vanity project, depending on your taste.
Germinating from a character Ben Stiller "inhabited" for the 1996/97 VH1 Fashion Awards, Zoolander is perhaps the silliest of the actor's Frat Pack offerings, using as it's starting point the vacuous world of male modelling and running with the ball way past the touchline and out of the stadium. Derek Zoolander (Stiller) is three-time male model of the year with a nice line in identical trademark "looks" and far too few brain cells to rub together. A shallow, naive, self-obsessed imbecile who shares his apartment with three fellow models, Derek's life takes a turn for the worse when hippy upstart title contender Hansel (Owen Wilson) steals this year's award from under his nose. Facing a crisis of self, Derek is apparently offered redemption by designer Mugatu (Will Ferrell) who wants him to front his new Derelicte campaign, based on the "homeless" look.
When an attempt at reconciling with his estranged coal miner father (John Voight) and brothers goes perfectly waxed tits up, Derek accepts Mugatu's offer and attends a day spa induction course that turns out to have nefarious undertones. Mugatu has been tasked by a seedy international association of fashion magnates to assassinate the president of Malaysia who is promising fair wages for garment manufacturers, and Derek is soon brainwashed to become a ferocious killer, primed to strike at the Derelicte fashion show which the president will be attending as guest of honour.
Yes, it sounds remarkably silly and yes, it is remarkably silly. Zoolander immediately sets out it's stall with a hilariously OTT sequence in which Derek's flatmates take him out for a Frapuccino only to die in a stupidity-induced gas station explosion. You will by this point immediately know wether you're going to "get" the movie or not. If you're not at least chuckling ten minutes in you can save yourself another eighty by doing something more productive, as clearly this film is not for you. Low-brow is the order of the day here; not in a gross-out bodily function kind of way, but rather based on simple stupidity and the admittedly one-joke notion of poking fun at beautiful yet dumb models. It's hardly alerting us to a side of the fashion industry we're not already aware of, but Zoolander succeeds by having the sheer conviction to carry it's plot through from inception to logical conclusion without ever breaking stride or conceding to bland expectations.
Directing himself for the first time, Stiller goes balls-to-the-wall for laughs, and his cast are clearly having a hoot with a wonderfully brash script and outlandish character design. The feeling is that the cast find this stuff funny even if you don't, though the impression is never that they think they're above the audience. Rather Stiller, Wilson, Ferrell et al are quite happy to cut loose and slum it with those of us who just like to see Atomic Wedgie jokes and pick up a catchphrase or two along the way. Special mention has to go to Milla Jovovich who, as Mugatu's burlesque right-hand woman, clearly has a greater sense of irony than most of her modelling peers. Likewise David Duchovny who pops up as a former catalogue hand model, poking fun at his conspiratorial X-Files origins as the man who alerts Derek to Mugatu's intentions and explains how every major political assassination in history has been carried out by male models at the whim of the fashion industry.
Since it's a bit of an ego massage and full of in-jokery between the cast, Zoolander is host to an enormous range of cameo performances. For your money you'll receive a menagerie of pleasant interruptions from a swathe of familiar faces from Paris Hilton (blech) to David Bowie via the medium of Billy Zane. Despite regularly being as mad as a bag of spiders, the only instance of the movie overstepping it's mark is in an oddly out of context 2001: A Space Odyssey homage that is both completely out of keeping with the rest of the movie and, more importantly, just not funny in the slightest. Other than this brief intrusion the script hurtles along like an nitro-assisted Ostrich, never giving the viewer time to ponder any of the jokes that are unfortunate enough to misfire.
At the end of the day how much enjoyment you gain from Zoolander depends entirely on your sense of humour, and in this case much more so than with most other comedies. You'll know yourself wether the sight of Owen Wilson slinging a yo-yo at a gun-weilding madwoman whilst shouting "Take my pain, bitch!" is going to make you laugh well in advance. If the answer is "no" then this is not for you. If, on the other hand, the thought of Will Ferrell camping it up (yes, even more than usual) and uttering gems like "I'm a hot little potato right now!" has you chuckling when you repeat it to your friends then move right up. Just make sure you check your brain in at the door first.
I have awarded this movie 4 out of 5 "Units We Use"
Owen Wilson (Hansel)
Will Ferrell (Mugatu)
Christina Taylor (Matilda)