Zoolander 2 struggles to recapture magic of first movie
Filled with stale jokes, Zoolander 2 struggles to recapture magic of first movie
It has been 15 years since Ben Stiller's much-loved male model alter ego Derek Zoolander hit the runway, working his famous poses and that Blue Steel pout in the 2001 cult comedy that satirised the fashion industry.
Zoolander's second coming - both the man and the movie - was highly anticipated and promoted with much fanfare.
Last March, when Stiller and co-star Owen Wilson, who plays rival-turned-friend Hansel, crashed a Valentino show and modelled the 2015-2016 Fall/Winter ready-to-wear collection at Paris Fashion Week, the crowd recognised them as Zoolander and Hansel immediately and embraced both, leaping off their seats for photos of the actors as they sashayed down the runway.
STRUT AND POUT: (From far left) Ben Stiller reprising his model alter ego Derek Zoolander; Zoolander and Hansel storming the Valentino runway last year and as fashion has-beens in the new movie. PHOTO: PARAMOUNT PICTURES
Fast forward to today.
Zoolander 2, released in the US three weeks ago, didn't exactly receive a similar response.
Critics ripped the sequel apart and its box office takings of US$27 million (S$38 million) were dismal, considering the hype it generated on social media.
They say fashion is timeless. But did the sequel come 15 years too late?
Opening here tomorrow, Zoolander 2 sees Zoolander saying goodbye to his self-imposed retirement as he is lured back to the limelight to attend a major fashion event in Rome.
There, he reunites with Hansel and as quickly as you can say "cheese", both are embroiled in a conspiracy where the world's most beautiful superstars are mysteriously murdered.
Throughout the movie, Zoolander is called "old" and a "has-been" when the world's most dim-witted male model attempts to make a comeback.
In their first catwalk after a decade, Zoolander and Hansel arrive in a pair of coffins, wearing jumpsuits with name tags that read "Old" (Zoolander) and "Lame" (Hansel). Before they can strut their stuff, they are doused by a large bucket of prunes.
Stiller, who directed and co-wrote both movies, may have unintentionally hit the nail on the head.
The glory days of ridiculing male vanity are long over.
What makes it harder to recapture the magic is that the original Zoolander was not even a runaway commercial success to begin with - a fact acknowledged by Stiller.
"It wasn't like a slam-dunk movie idea," the 50-year-old US actor told Vogue magazine.
"For the most part, we were on our own - both in the fashion world and with the studio. They were just like, 'We don't quite know what this is'."
The first film was a victim of bad timing as it was released two weeks after 9/11, so its underperformance at the US box office - it raked in US$45 million domestically - was understandable.
But the US$28 million film had legs and did extremely well on home video and overseas with global box-office earnings of US$61 million, eventually propelling its hero to cult icon status.
Zoolander was banned in Singapore as the plot revolved around the assassination of Malaysia's prime minister and it also featured excessive use of drugs. However, it received a theatrical release in 2006.
"I think we probably would have made a sequel right after the first one came out, if anybody had wanted it. Nobody went to see it..." said Stiller at the New York premiere of Zoolander 2.
"It's very easy to make a sequel to Transformers, to a movie that makes a gazillion dollars, but it takes real cojones to make a sequel to a movie that grossed so little money the first time around."
In another interview with MTV, Stiller explained that the film had such a long gestational period due to "a confluence of events".
"We had a script in 2005, but we couldn't get a cast together that time so we shelved the idea.
"Then we another idea in 2010... Every few years, an idea would come up. Then the budget was an issue."
Stiller could also have fallen behind times by objectifying Spanish co-star Penelope Cruz, who plays Valentina Valencia, a former swimsuit model-turned-Interpol "fashion police".
HOT STUFF: Penelope Cruz as Interpol "Fashion Police" Valentina Valencia. PHOTO: UIP
That criticism was addressed by fellow scriptwriter and US actor Justin Theroux, 44, who disagreed that putting Cruz in figure-hugging catsuits and cleavage-baring outfits and having the camera constantly panning up and down her body is "objectifying".
He told Metro UK: "Valentina was a swimsuit model and she's literally the head of the fashion division of Interpol so I think she's going to dress nicely and appear sexy, and she's also working out of Rome."
Theroux's reply clearly didn't make sense, prompting Metro's rebuttal that to suggest Interpol's head of fashion would dress "nicely" would be the same as saying its head of narcotics would be a drug user.
Clearly, Stiller and company are not aware that moviegoers now appreciate and embrace female empowerment. Even the James Bond films have caught on, with the Bond girls being equally lethal as the 007 agent himself.
So has Stiller become an old, lame has-been like Zoolander?
More like he has become lazy as a film-maker, carelessly slapping some stale, rehashed jokes together and calling it a day.
For one who has helmed the ambitious The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty (2013), the incredible Tropic Thunder (2008) and the seminal Reality Bites (1994), there is no doubt Stiller has the talent to entertain and captivate.
Just as long as he doesn't tread old ground.
"I want to make a movie that is not a comedy. I want to make an un-funny comedy," he told ABC News about his next project.
"I would like to make a movie that is sort of a historical thing, something that is kind of not necessarily a comedy."
Partners in crime
The Cable Guy (1993)
Stiller's second directorial effort might have been a starring vehicle for Jim Carrey (below), but it also marked his first comedic partnership with Wilson. Stiller played twins Sam and Stan Sweet while Wilson was a man who got beaten up by Carrey.
Permanent Midnight (1998)
This indie drama sees Stiller as comedy writer Jerry Stahl while Owen plays his friend and fellow drug addict.
The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)
This Wes Anderson cult favourite about a dysfunctional family has Stiller playing math genius Chas Tenenbaum and Wilson as family friend Eli Cash.
Meet The Parents, Meet The Fockers, Little Fockers (2000, 2004, 2010)
In the popular trilogy, Stiller's Greg Focker constantly seeks his father-in-law's (Robert De Niro) approval. Wilson is Kevin, the ex-fiance of Focker's wife Pam (Teri Polo).
This marked the start of Derek Zoolander and Hansel's ascent to supermodel status as both thwart fashion designer Mugatu's (Will Ferrell) attempt to assassinate the Malaysian prime minister.
Starsky & Hutch (2004)
This action comedy, where the duo play streetwise undercover cops, is said to be the best Stiller-Wilson pairing on screen.
Night At The Museum (NATM), NATM: Battle Of The Smithsonian, NATM: Secret Of The Tomb (2006, 2009, 2014)
Stiller is the museum night guard Larry while Wilson is the cowboy wax figurine Jedediah Smith, one of the many exhibits that magically come alive at night.
The Big Year (2011)
Stiller produced this comedy, in which Wilson, Steve Martin and Jack Black play bird enthusiasts who dedicate a year of their lives to a bird-spotting competition
Here are the celebrity cameos who have juicy parts in Zoolander 2:
(as Evil DJ/The Headmaster)
(as Katinka Ingabogovinanana)