'Zoolander 2' Is Utterly Inessential

10 February 2016 | 5:40 pm | Anthony Carew

“A handful of so-so sketch-comedy ideas blown out into a $50mil blockbuster.”

Is there any gimmick cheaper than the celebrity cameo? As a film ‘series’, Zoolander — the 2001 original and its just-arrived, 15-years-on sequel, Zoolander 2 — lean heavily on a parade of famous humans.

The incessant, largely-witless parade of cameos consecrates the movies’ status as ephemeral pieces of cinematic fluff; the original so long ago that Lance Bass and Fred Durst appear as supposed stars. This time around, the film begins with the death of Justin Bieber, and culminates with fashion industry titans — Anna Wintour, Marc Jacobs, Tommy Hilfiger, Valentino — gathering in a secret satanic ritual where they hope to tap into the fountain of the youth. After the original depicted the fashion industry as cruel oppressors selling gilded trinkets stitched by the slave-labour of third-world workers, it’s, as always, kinda gross to see fashion insiders here in-on-the-‘joke’; as if satirising this world offers them a kind of absolution.

Zoolander 2 begins with an opening newsreel that doesn’t just announce Bieber’s death, but fills in the years between original and sequel. This is, you’ll note, the exact same device that opened two of last year’s most unnecessary exercises in years-on brand-bilking, Pitch Perfect 2 and Entourage. And, though there’s not the horrifying stank of entitled bro-dom wafting through Zoolander 2, there are comparisons to be made with Entourage.

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Not simply in the fact that each exists simply for its celebrity cameos (and, here, the ‘joke’ is essentially the same: apparently nothing is funnier than Susan Boyle swearing). But in the way each film inhabits a world of horrifying materialism and privilege without irony, any weak attempts at satire actually playing more like celebrations of the celebrity milieu in which they were conceived, written, and executed. And just like it’s hard to imagine anyone who was actually clamouring for an Entourage movie, who was hanging out all these years for a Zoolander sequel?

Here, the film leans on the clichés of spy-movies as much as anything. Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson are lured out of retirement; the latter (just like in Southpaw!) needing to win his kid back, the latter dealing with imminent fatherhood (of the 11 people in his domestic-partnership-orgy, in one of the film’s better gags). They jet off to Italy, and land in a fashion-industry conspiracy headed by Kristen Wiig (in a laughless, painful, zany-accent performance) and Will Ferrell (whose over-the-top scenery-chewing brings energy and idiocy to a film needing more of both).

Penélope Cruz, as buxom Fashion Police secret agent, helps them out, and, look, there’s an extended Sting cameo, and, lo, he’s playing the NBA All-Star Game this weekend for maximum synergy. Which is, of course, Zoolander 2 in a nut-shell. The film exists at the centre of a wild multinational choreography of marketing, irony, in-jokery, celebrity, and wealth, yet is itself utterly inessential; a handful of so-so sketch-comedy ideas blown out into a $50mil blockbuster.