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Zoolander No. 2: A model of wretchedness 

Rating: *

ZOOLANDER NO. 2
* (out of four)
DIRECTED BY Ben Stiller
STARS Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson

Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson in Zoolander No. 2 (Photo: Paramount)
  • Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson in Zoolander No. 2 (Photo: Paramount)

There's no reputational risk involved in asserting that Zoolander No. 2 is so awful, it makes the 2001 original appear as brilliant as Annie Hall by comparison. But how about stating that Zoolander No. 2 is so awful, it makes this year's Dirty Grandpa appear as brilliant as Annie Hall by comparison?

OK, I won't get that carried away, but as far as continuing sagas go, it's on a par with such recent disasters as 2013's A Good Day to Die Hard, 2014's 300: Rise of an Empire, and 2016's New Hampshire Republican primary. Granted, the first film wasn't anything special, but it at least managed to insert a handful of genuinely splendid gags between the dead stretches. Conversely, Z2 is nothing but dead stretches, offering even less laughs than the current Holocaust yarn Son of Saul.

Based on a skit created for the 1996 VH1/Vogue Fashion Awards, the initial Zoolander cast Ben Stiller as Derek Zoolander, an imbecilic male model who becomes a patsy in a conspiracy plot that explains why there are no male models over the age of 30 (Logan's Runway, as it were). Owen Wilson co-starred as a fellow model named Hansel, while Will Ferrell appeared as the flamboyant villain Mugatu. All three reunite in this outing, which finds Derek and Hansel attempting to become relevant again in the world of fashion while Mugatu cools his heels in a maximum-security prison. As Derek broods over the loss of his wife (Christine Taylor), who died tragically, and the disappearance of his son (Cyrus Arnold), who was snatched by Child Protective Services, Hansel flees from the members of his orgy/family, all of whom he impregnated (including Kiefer Sutherland as himself; har). But their personal problems are momentarily forgotten once Interpol agent Melanie Valentina (Penelope Cruz) arrives on the scene, seeking their help in uncovering why such famous singers as Justin Bieber (playing himself in the opening scene) and Bruce Springsteen (smart enough to stay away, or maybe the filmmakers were smart enough not to waste his time) are being assassinated.

A different celebrity can be spotted every couple of frames — Katy Perry, Susan Sarandon, even Neil deGrasse Tyson — but none of these cameos inspire even so much as a wan smile. There's a bit of creative casting with Benedict Cumberbatch as an androgynous model named All, but his only purpose is to allow Derek and Hansel to make stupid jokes about whether he has a "hot dog" or a "bun" (and perhaps to engage in a bout of transphobia, as the backers of an online petition insist). Mugatu eventually becomes important to the plot, but Ferrell proves to be as tiresome with his shenanigans as Stiller and Wilson are with theirs — in fact, all the actors try so hard to deliver anything of comedic value that the force of the combined flop sweat could crash through any levee anywhere.

The late, great David Bowie had an amusing cameo in the original Zoolander, which made sense given his own ties to the fashion industry. There's no comparable trade-off in this picture, unless you happen to be a Belieber — or a fan of Susan Boyle, whose appearance is supposed to be hilarious because she cusses. Juggling jokes that are predictable with gags that are idiotic, Zoolander No. 2 brings to mind a lyric from Bowie's "Fashion": "It's loud and tasteless and I've heard it before."

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