Film

‘Zoolander 2’ Is a Death Knell for the Age of Dude Comedy

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The first Zoolander, Ben Stiller’s dopey, fitfully funny fashion spoof, was released less than three weeks after the September 11 attacks. Its sequel underlines the extent to which another nefarious plot — the cynical quest for world domination born of cross-brand synergy — has proven impossible to eradicate on these shores. Set in Rome and glutted with mostly extraneous plot, the follow-up brings together the original’s main triad: Malapropping Derek Zoolander (Stiller) and polyamorous Hansel (Owen Wilson), onetime runway rivals, are now on a mission to save Derek’s plus-size kid from a blood cult led by the evil-queen couturier Mugatu (Will Ferrell). Though Stiller repeats the same duties — star, director, co-writer — he had in the first movie, the real auteur of Zoolander 2 would appear to be Anna Wintour, who, among the scores of preening, cameoing celebrities in the film, is the only one with the power to put Stiller and his co-star Penélope Cruz (who plays a member of Interpol’s Global Fashion Division) on the cover of the real February issue of Vogue. (“Being able to have Anna there to sort of validate what we were doing was the biggest thing and opened a lot of doors for us,” Stiller said in a recent New York Times feature on the sequel, which opens the day after New York Fashion Week starts.)

In one of several weak attempts to take on changes in culture over the past fifteen years, Derek and Hansel try to figure out whether Benedict Cumberbatch’s trans model All has a “wiener or a vaginer,” the panic reflecting the anxieties of the cis–sausage factory that wrote this movie (Stiller’s co-scripters are Justin Theroux, Nicholas Stoller, and John Hamburg). Appearing too infrequently, Kristen Wiig, as a Donatella Versace knockoff, kills every time she opens her mouth, stretching and pulling diphthongs beyond comprehension. Wiig’s cheering presence in an otherwise depleting project/cross-promoted product highlights the fact that Zoolander 2 is a referendum on dying industries: not just the portfolio of Condé Nast titles that Wintour oversees as artistic director, but also the Frat Pack. As my screening companion wisely noted as we left the theater: “The era of the male comedian is over.”

Zoolander 2

Directed by Ben Stiller

Paramount Pictures

Opens February 12