**½/**** Image A Sound A Extras A
starring Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson, Will Ferrell, Christine Taylor
screenplay by Drake Sather & Ben Stiller and John Hamburg
directed by Ben Stiller
by Walter Chaw Ben Stiller has a very particular genius for satirical imitation. When he says that he based Derek Zoolander on "some cross between Jason Priestly and Luke Perry," one can be sure that the offspring is an uncomfortably dead-on collection of insouciant pouts, long blank-takes, and dim-witted pronouncements. We know that Stiller is good at destroying celebrity; the bigger question is can an extended sketch featuring one of his burlesques sustain interest and consistently inspire laughter? The answer is "fitfully," so yes and no.
Derek Zoolander (Stiller) is the world's best-known male model, a three-time winner of the VH1 Male Model of the Year award (Zoolander is a VH1 production) and prime candidate for brainwashing by an evil shadow conglomerate of fashion designers. When the prime minister of Malaysia vows to pay his countrymen a fair working wage, he instantly becomes a target of the designers who depend on third world sweatshop labourers for cheap clothing production. Spearheaded by the evil Mugatu (Will Ferrell) and his henchwoman Katinka (Milla Jovovich, doing her best Boris and Natasha), Zoolander is abducted and trained as an assassin. Owen Wilson plays Zoolander's arch-pretty-boy-nemesis Hansel, and the lovely, real life Mrs. Ben Stiller Christine Taylor (The Brady Bunch Movie) is an intrepid TIME reporter trying to get the aggressively stupid male models to concentrate on outwitting the bad guys and saving the Malaysian prime minister.
Self-consciously lowbrow, Zoolander hurts itself by never being clear about the target of its skewering: The gags range exhaustingly from a somewhat shocking moment of blackface to commentary on the smallness of cellphones. But Zoolander's greatest weakness is its central joke, that Zoolander himself is possibly the stupidest and vainest human being on the planet. Amusing enough for a while, the conceit ultimately lacks in the kind of emotional depth that would move Derek Zoolander beyond workshop caricature and facilitate our connection to him, however tenuous.
Perhaps realizing the limited lifespan of the central joke, Stiller peoples his film with a surplus of famous faces grotesque (Jon Voight as Zoolander's dad, Andy Dick as a masseuse), sublime (Billy Zane and David Bowie as themselves), and inexplicable (Garry Shandling as a spectator at a runway show and Vince Vaughn as Zoolander's mute coal miner brother). Fabio also makes a cameo, proof that Zoolander might be more of a documentary than a satire, and Jerry Stiller as the head of Ballstein Model Agency gets an opportunity to chew scenery in what is the ugliest pair of glasses that I have ever seen.
Zoolander is a nonsensical farce that plays a great deal like a feature-length episode of Stiller's long-lamented Fox TV sketch comedy, the self-titled "The Ben Stiller Show." Though it does manage a few classic moments late in the game, when it apes the opening sequence of 2001: A Space Odyssey and the kiss of death portion of The Godfather II, Zoolander is undone by a struggle between Harvard Lampoon and National Lampoon sensibilities. The resultant film is just a little too self-aware of itself as something dumb and campy. Still, it's impossible not to recommend anything that includes the line, "There was a moment last night, when she was sandwiched between the two Finnish dwarves and the Maori tribesmen, where I thought, 'Wow, I could really spend the rest of my life with this woman.'" A hit-and-miss Ben Stiller comedy is still in a higher league from the cheap gross-out teen sex comedies that have flooded the multiplexes in recent times. Stiller's capable of better, but Zoolander's funny enough in the meantime.
by Bill Chambers Paramount releases Zoolander on DVD in a Special Collector's Edition that abandons the self-exaltation of most SEs in favour of truly enriching supplemental material. After the film itself, which is presented in, as Derek Zoolander might say, a really, really, really, ridiculously good-looking 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer with vibrant 5.1 Dolby Digital sound to match ("Wake Me Up Before You Go Go" will blow the roof off--okay, it won't), you have a bunch of model extras (pun shamelessly intended), starting with a gratifying screen-specific commentary by Stiller and co-writers Drake Sather and John Hamburg. The trio's forthrightness in the absence of much jocularity may surprise viewers, but to my thinking, if you want quips, watch the movie. Group discussion revolves around the development of the screenplay and, in turn, the evolution of the final product during the test-screening phase. That's Will Ferrell's real hair, by the way, as Mugatu.
In two sections of extra footage, we're treated to five deleted scenes and five extended scenes, all with optional commentary from Stiller. The director seems broken-up about having to cut (based on feeble audience reaction) a sequence in which Derek tracks Hansel down at the V.V.V.I.P. room of Moomba, but despite an amusing exchange therein between Hansel and Winona Ryder, it does indeed test one's patience. For big, big laughs, check out the 6-minute compilation of outtakes, featuring some inimitable Ferrell improvisations as a lollipop-licking schoolgirl.Assisting those of us without VH1 and posterity-seekers in equal regard, the original 1996 and 1997 Zoolander skits, which were incorporated into the VH1 Fashion Awards of their respective years, are also included. The character has evolved (i.e. adopted broader mannerisms) since the first incarnation to the extent that the Zoolander feature film plays like a satirical biopic of the Derek Zoolander we met in '96. Capping off this wonderful disc: six Public Service Announcements performed by Stiller as Zoolander on such issues as "racism" and "dating"; three "MTV Cribs" shorts on Zoolander's pad; six hilarious promotional interstitials (not sure where they aired, though likely VH1) for Zoolander, three of which are Stiller and Zoolander being interviewed side-by-side thanks to the miracle of split-screen; photo galleries of Derek's portfolio, Hansel's portfolio, and production stills; The Wise Guys' video for "Start the Commotion"; and alternate end titles, whose 'Austin Powers' approach appears to have informed the fabulous menu designs of the Zoolander DVD. Originally published: March 9, 2002.