It’s bad enough that studios are overly enamored with making sequels, prequels, films derived from extinct TV shows and Saturday Night Live sketches. But now along comes Zoolander, a lame film spawned by a character originally created for the… VH-1 Fashion Awards. What next – films inspired by Calvin Klein bus ads? On the way out of a preview screening, the following conversation was overheard, just outside the restroom: "Wait a minute, I have to take a Zoolander before we go." It’s hard to imagine what could possibly be added to that pithy and perceptive comment, but it’s culturevulture’s role to try.
Derek Zoolander (Ben Stiller) is a male model approaching the witching year of 30 who just lost his Top Model title to challenger Hansel (Owen Wilson). There’s a line in Woody Allen’s classic Annie Hall where a pompous party guest says, "Right now it’s only a notion, but I think I can get money to make it into a concept… and later turn it into an idea." Unfortunately, screenwriters Stiller and Drake Sather have even less than a notion here – namely, that male models are dimwits. That’s the sum total of the theme repeated ad nauseam for 82 minutes that somehow feels like 182. The faint thread of a plot: an evil fashion designer hires Derek and brainwashes him to assassinate the Prime Minister of Malaysia, in order to stop legislation aimed at ending sweatshops using child labor.
Red flags: the presence of the ever-annoying Will Farrell as the evil fashion designer Mugatu, and that approximately 200 people are listed in the credits as "himself/herself". Stiller also serves as director of this mess and has cast his father Jerry Stiller as Derek’s manager and real-life wife Christine Taylor as Derek’s love interest. This isn’t a film so much as a smirk of a home movie that somehow got green-lighted as a film project and then ran wildly amuck. It attempts Austin Powers-like irreverence but falls very short, primarily because of the feeble target it’s chosen and the monotony with which it bludgeons it. Hearing Derek mispronounce eulogy as "yoo-googly" the first time is of debatable humor, and after three or four repetitions it doesn’t get any funnier.
There are numerous cameos of little or no note and Owen Wilson (owner of perhaps the most unique nose in filmdom) tries very hard, but there’s no disguising that this is one thin premise stretched even thinner. Stiller has done more than serviceable work before (Permanent Midnight, Mystery Men) but despite being fully in charge here has managed to create a totally unsympathetic and uninteresting character to build a film around. There are a few brief movie parodies along the way but nothing that hasn’t been done before or with more imagination.
The ad campaign for Zoolander bills Derek as "3% body fat, 1% brain activity." Given what’s on the screen, that 1% figure is a bit optimistic.
– Bob Aulert