As a character, Derek Zoolander is pretty dumb. Arguably dumber than the stars of “Dumb and Dumber.” As a movie, the original Zoolander was pretty dumb too, but it got by on the charms of Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson, two real-life friends mugging it up together for the first time, engaging in comedic fisticuffs with an ingenuity of stupidity not seen since that Jim Carrey/Jeff Daniels vehicle of the 90’s. It was gloriously dumb.
“Zoolander 2” starts out on such a high, treating an audience with low expectations to a cornucopia of celebrity cameos (most of which work better than they should) and pointed jokes about Derek and Hansel’s has-been status in the modern world. You see, hipsterism rules the world now, and these old male models find themselves out of sync when they’re surrounded by transgender sensations and ragged, terribly dressed fashion icons. That’s the first half. The second half runs out of steam, and quick. It doesn’t take long for the endless cameos to look desperate and for the self-referential parody to elicit eye rolls instead of belly rolls. Will Ferrell proves himself a hoot as always, enlivening a floundering plot about Zoolander’s dumpy son with his campy antics as the evil Mugatu. On the other hand, newcomer Kristen Wiig is a non-starter as a flamboyantly Russian promoter with a secret, and Penelope Cruz essentially accentuates her Spanish accent and not much else.
Whether it’s a sharp callback or a new gag that actually kills, the jokes fly with remarkable precision early on. Stiller and Wilson still enjoy wonderful chemistry, but their presence here feels eerily similar to their own characters’ predicament. That is, by the end, their brand of garish tomfoolery feels out of place in today’s comedy landscape. “Zoolander 2” is too dumb for its own good.