An apparent bid to be the next "Austin Powers," with a painfully out-of-touch, but lovable, doofus who mistakens himself for being cool, Ben Stiller's "Zoolander" has little charm and not nearly enough big laughs to sustain its withering plot and quick 85-minute running time. Based on a skit that Stiller created for the VH1 Music Awards, this good-spirited, shallow comedy plays like another failed attempt at an "SNL" sketch-turned-movie that exits your brain the second you exit the theater auditorium.
Derek Zoolander (Ben Stiller) is the world's top male model, a man-child who refuses to accept that he may not be the hottest, or most talented, guy in America. His fears get the best of him when new rising model Hansel (Owen Wilson) begins to steal some of his thunder, starting with an upset win at a fashion awards show. So preoccupied in proving that he isn't a soon-to-be has-been, Derek is oblivious when fashion mogul Mugatu (Will Ferrell) sets his sights on the simpleton to be the victim of a brainwashing effort to assassinate the Prime Minister of Malaysia. Luckily, he has pretty news reporter Matilda Jeffries (Christine Taylor) on his side to uncover the truth.
A satiric spoof of the fashion industry, "Zoolander" has its moments, but nothing more. Aside from a pricelessly funny sequence involving an orgy and Finnish dwarves, most of the jokes flash by at a lightning speed, and while it is easy to recognize their potential, they tend to fall flat. Writer-director-actor Ben Stiller (along with coscreenwriters Drake Sather and John Hamburg) have done an admirable job in developing the thin sketch material beyond its limits, but the execution of the comedy feels weirdly off at almost every turn.
The protagonist of Derek Zoolander is a dimwit character who never grows beyond his shallow roots, and so it is difficult to care about what happens to him. Ben Stiller (2000's "Meet the Parents
") clearly has a ball playing him, though, in the type of role he has never had the chance to perform before. As his competition in the male model world, Owen Wilson (1999's "The Haunting
") enjoyably camps it up, but, not to seem shallow, the actor's crooked, misshaped nose distracts from a character who is supposed to be physically flawless. Stiller's real-life wife Christine Taylor (1998's "The Wedding Singer") is fetching as Derek's possible love interest, Matilda, as she refuses to let the boys have all the fun, while Will Ferrell (2001's "Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back
") turns in another rousingly comic tour de force. Only Milla Jovovich (1999's "He Got Game") is bad, awfully vamping it up as Mubatu's scheming Natasha-like partner.
"Zoolander" comes filled to the hilt with cheesily fun '80s pop hits, such as "Relax," by Frankie Goes to Hollywood, and "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go," by Wham!, but they proves only a minor positive distraction from the relative emptiness of the material. The film tries too hard to be a crowd-pleasing, youth-oriented comedy, with a final product that isn't nearly as clever as it wants to be.
©2001 by Dustin Putman