In case you don't follow the global fashion calendar, Fashion Week has just begun in New York, bringing with it a few nice clothes plus the usual over-the-top weirdness — bizarrely themed runway shows and front-row fashionistas teetering on stilt-like heels, swathed in feathers and smoothed out with dangerous doses of Botox.
Not coincidentally, Ben Stiller's "Zoolander 2" also opens this week, sporting everything we just mentioned — except maybe the few nice clothes.
Of course, unlike Fashion Week, every element of "Zoolander 2," both directed and co-written by Stiller, is aimed at being silly and ridiculous — like the original 15 years ago, yet more so. And "yet more so" ends up being the problem. This sequel ups the ante so aggressively and relentlessly that you may find yourself pining for a relaxing night in front of a 2001-era TV, watching the original on a VHS tape.
That's not to say that there aren't moments when you'll laugh out loud, especially when your favorite celebrity or designer appears for a cameo (is there anyone Stiller COULDN'T get to appear in his film?) But eventually you'll start to feel like your smile is sort of freezing on your face (Botox or no Botox); in your heart, you've just stopped laughing.
But boy, those cameos. We begin with none other than Justin Bieber, chased through the streets of Rome for unknown reasons and gunned down, bullets riddling his body like in a "Godfather" film. Before succumbing, though, he manages to send a duck-faced selfie to his fans.
This prologue sets up the international intrigue part of the movie, but all you need to know is that Penelope Cruz (looking great) is the head of Interpol's Global Fashion Division, and she's trying to track down why so many rock stars are being killed (buh-bye, Boss!)
Now back to the U.S., where our familiar heroes, male models Derek (Stiller) and Hansel (Owen Wilson), are living in seclusion on separate coasts — Derek alone, in the snowy wilds of "extremely northern New Jersey," and Hansel in the sandy desert known as Malibu, where he lives with Orgy, a group of possessive lovers including women of various ages, an animal, and — playing himself —Kiefer Sutherland.
Years ago, it turns out, catastrophe struck Derek's "Center for Kids Who Can't Read Good," and the result, among other things, was a rift with Hansel. But now, the men are suddenly summoned to Rome to walk in a fashion show hosted by mega-tycoon Alexanya Atoz (Kristen Wiig, unrecognizable, channeling Donatella Versace and murdering vowels each time she opens her inflated lips).
Reunited, the two discover that the designer they're appearing for, Don Atari (Kyle Mooney), is a millennial who endlessly spouts trendy jargon. In one genuinely funny jibe at fashion designers, Atari's holding his runway show not at the lovely Trevi Fountain, but at an abandoned medical waste facility ("Totally toxic, but chill," he notes.) Benedict Cumberbatch shows up here, spoofing gender fluidity as a character named "All." (A transgender joke? That's nothing; this movie also squeezes in a Malala gag.)
Anyway, soon the guys are pulled into the plot involving those rock-star murders, and a possible actual Fountain of Youth. This is where Mugatu (Will Ferrell) comes in. Remember him? Well, he's in jail — fashion jail. Once he gets out, we're ready for the final confrontation, where suddenly every designer you've ever heard of appears.
Valentino? Check. Hilfiger too. The Wangs — Alexander AND Vera. Marc Jacobs. And of course, the doyenne of fashion, Vogue editor Anna Wintour, gamely doing comedy. The quantity of all these cameos — we haven't even told you about the rock stars — is impressive.
Yet, like too many blinding sequins on a runway gown, quantity can be a bit stifling, too.
"Zoolander 2," a Paramount release, is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America "for crude and sexual content, a scene of exaggerated violence, and brief strong language." Running time: 102 minutes. Two stars out of four.
Definition of PG-13: Parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.
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