Ben Stiller created a character a few years ago as part of a skit for the VHI Fashion Awards show. The character was Derek Zoolander, a dim-witted model obsessed with being “ridiculously good looking.” Stiller’s new film Zoolander teaches us that a half-brained idea for a comedy sketch does not make for feature-film material.
Zoolander comes across as dim-witted as the character the movie is based on.
Although it serves its purpose and provides laughs here and there, the film fails to move beyond the obvious joke that male models, while good-natured, are just gullible animals that take directions and don’t ask questions.
Derek is introduced to us during the red carpet session before the, surprise, VHI Fashion Awards. A freeze- frame captures Stiller mugging for the camera as “Derek Zoolander” appears written on the screen. A few moments later, Derek’s rival model appears just as “Hansel” (Owen Wilson) appears on the screen during another freeze-frame. A few more characters are introduced in this fashion as if writer/director Stiller is telling the audience, “We don’t want you to get confused, just sit back and we’ll tell you everything.”
Films that practice this method run the risk of taking the audience out of the interactive experience of a film. In this case, that might have been the best choice since getting too involved in the plot of Zoolander could make an audience member as dumb as the central character. Then again, if the audience knows they are simply watching silly fiction throughout, the chances of walking out of the theater become less likely.
The silliness is best personified by Mugatu (Will Ferrell), a fashion designer who hires Derek to be a model for “Derelicte,” a show that mockingly showcases the fashion style of the homeless. As we discover in the opening sequence of the film, the show is just a ploy to assassinate the prime minister of Malaysia, and Derek will follow in a long line of male models turned assassins.
Ferrell’s Mugatu sports a frazzled goatee that complements his reverse white-haired mohawk that puts Princess Leia’s hair buns to shame. He sings and dances throughout a music video of Freddie Goes to Hollywood’s “Relax” designed to hypnotize Derek into believing the prime minister is evil because he plans to impose child-labor laws that will impact the fashion industry’s production costs of clothing.
However, most of the humor comes across stale because the previews give away key jokes that move the story along its already short path.
Jerry Stiller provides some comic moments as Maury Ballstein, the creative mind of Balls Models, Derek’s modeling agency. Jon Voight has a small but endearing role as Derek’s father, a coal miner, who is ashamed his son struts in front of the world wearing nothing but underwear.
Christine Taylor and David Duchovny round out the cast of a film that started with a simple idea and ended with a simple result. Unfortunately for the audience, simple doesn’t always translate into entertaining.