“[A] cinematic endurance test”
It’s something of a miracle that the first four mainstream American comedies we’ve gotten in 2016 have all been noticeably worse than their predecessor. “Ride Along 2” looked to be one of my picks for worst films of the year until “Dirty Grandpa” came out and distracted me with its relentless display of vulgarian tendencies. The following week, I had to endure “Fifty Shades of Black,” a wretchedly unfunny parody of the popular “Fifty Shades of Grey” book and movie series. That time around, I was positive that I had seen the worst comedy of the year, but winced at the thought of what I’d have to endure had I been wrong yet again.
Right now, I’m not even going to express any kind of sentiment as to what the remaining ten and a half months left of this year may have in store for me, but I do know that I’ve seen the worst comedy of the year thus far with “Zoolander No. 2.” Just a sliver away from being as bad as “Joe Dirt 2: Beautiful Loser,” another belated sequel to a comedy from 2001 revolving around an insufferable schmo, “Zoolander No. 2” is borderline insufferable. With its redundant amount of gags poking fun at excessive social media use, celebrities like Justin Bieber and Willie Nelson that show up in the form of gratuitous cameos, and whatever is relevant in contemporary pop culture, it’s like mainstream American comedies now bear the same standards and ambitions as your average Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer project like “Date Movie” and “Epic Movie.” We’re basically supposed to laugh at a scene because we recognize the people or the technology it involves rather than the actual punchline?
“Zoolander No. 2” wasn’t made for an analysis even that deep, but I have to leave you, dear reader, with something. The film reacquaints us with the flamboyant, narcissistic fashion model Derek Zoolander (Ben Stiller), who has faded from the public eye and lost all of his cultural relevance since we last saw him (how pleasantly metaphoric). Zoolander is called back into work when Interpol discovers that a slew of pop stars, such as Madonna, Usher, and Bieber, have been assassinated, dying with Zoolander’s trademark “Blue Steel” look on their faces. Zoolander teams up with Hansel McDonald (Owen Wilson) in order to, once again, infiltrate the world of high fashion in order to get closer to the band of people who are committing these crimes. During this process, Zoolander discovers his rival Jacobim Mugatu (Will Ferrell) has escaped from prison and is also planning revenge on him by way of his estranged son.
The film is an exhaustively unfunny stride that lumbers from one poorly conceived setup to the next, mocking Zoolander’s narcissism the entire way and Hansel’s vanity as if we didn’t get enough of these jokes in the first film. The worst possible thing Stiller could’ve done besides resurrect a character from fifteen years ago that very few even cared to see again on the big screen is rehash the same stale jokes a second time around. Unfortunately, that’s precisely what he does with “Zoolander No. 2.” From the same punchlines to Will Ferrell’s utterly incorrigible villain, who we’re supposed to laugh at because he looks funny essentially, nothing has changed for Zoolander and his universe despite his audience growing up.
The audience who loved the original “Zoolander,” and may indeed love this one as well, usually justify or defend their love by claiming that the film is “just so stupid you have to laugh.” No, I do not. I fail to see the humor in adults acting like children, with not a shred of wit to be found in the film’s screenplay, and the interesting part about that aforementioned justification is that it’s the same one used to slam Adam Sandler’s recent endeavors (which are no worse than “Zoolander” or its sequel). My point is, what do these films have that Sandler’s latest films like “Pixels,” “Jack and Jill,” and “That’s My Boy” lack? They’re both on the same team as far as I’m concerned.
The audience of four, including myself, I saw this film with was one of the most drearily silent I’ve seen in a long time; one walked out and the other two sat frozen in the same position for the entire film. Not a laugh was audible and no one looked to be getting even a microcosm of enjoyment from the desperation on-screen. I know I’ve used this description before, but must once more because it applies to “Zoolander No. 2” ever-so greatly; this is a cinematic endurance test involving a bunch of aging comic performers that are well past their prime in terms of portraying their trademark characters here that are so desperate for laughs and attention that they might as well go straight to being as unsubtle as possible and hold a sign or wear a shirt for the entire course of the picture that reads “LAUGH AT US” in big, bold letters.