Published Feb 12, 2016Nostalgia can be a rather tricky commodity for entertainment to deal in. One need only look at Anchorman 2, Dumb and Dumber To or the newest season of Arrested Development to find that whatever ineffable quality makes a comedy work the first time around doesn't always stick around for a belated encore. A more extreme example of this phenomenon, Zoolander 2 takes the unabashedly silly and gleefully stupid humour of the original and turns it into something approaching desperate pandering 15 years later.
The years since we last saw male model Derek Zoolander (Ben Stiller) certainly haven't been kind to him. We learn that his Center For Kids Who Can't Read Good And Wanna Learn To Do Other Stuff Good Too that he built at the end of the first film collapsed shortly after being shoddily constructed, killing his wife (Christine Taylor) and permanently disfiguring his best friend and fellow model Hansel (Owen Wilson).
Living in exile in a desolate part of New Jersey, Zoolander is summoned back into action by old friend Billy Zane, who recruits both Zoolander and Hansel for a fashion show by hipster designer Don Atari (SNL's Kyle Mooney) that also features popular model Alexanya Atoz (Kristen Wiig). It's an attempt by Zoolander to look like a productive individual so he can be awarded back custody of his son, Derek Jr. (Cyrus Arnold), who's living in a boarding house after Derek was deemed an unfit father.
When Derek learns from Interpol fashion police officer Valentina (Penelope Cruz) that someone is killing good-looking people (like Justin Bieber and Bruce Springsteen) and that his son is being targeted as the youngest descendant of an attractive lineage that goes all the way back to the Garden of Eden, all eyes turn to the incarcerated designer Mugatu (Will Ferrell) as the mastermind behind it all.
If that all sounds like an overabundance of plot for a brainless comedy like this, rest assured that it merely scratches the surface of everything going on in this overstuffed turkey. There's also Hansel's committed relationship to the many people and animals that make up his orgy (led by Kiefer Sutherland), the androgynous new model du jour who goes by the name All (Benedict Cumberbatch) and many celebrities popping up in cameos as themselves where the joke appears to simply be that they agreed to appear in the film at all.
Amidst all of the callbacks to the original — including Zoolander's penchant for habitually using the wrong words and whimsical escapades scored by Wham! that suddenly go horribly wrong — there are long stretches where the film struggles to find its comedic footing, and these lengthy lulls between laughs can't help but make it hard to win back the audience's confidence after a while. Only a shamelessly goofy climax that has no qualms about dismissing much of the inane plot that has come before it manages to hit the delirious heights of the original.
But if Stiller — working with a team of screenwriters that includes John Hamburg, Justin Theroux and Nicholas Stoller — can't quite recapture the deadpan ridiculousness that characterized the first film, it should probably come as no surprise after a decade and a half. He's an aging comedy slugger still up there taking his hacks at the plate — the hits, let alone the home runs, just don't come as easily as they used to.