Any movie that opens with pop-singer Justin Bieber getting riddled with machine gun bullets cannot be all bad. “Zoolander 2” (***1/2 OUT OF ****) qualifies as zany, zippy, and zensational! Indeed, sequels rarely deliver the goods as well as the originals. Nevertheless, “Zoolander 2” is twice as funny as its fashion spoof predecessor. Actor, writer, & director Ben Stiller waited 15 years before he revived this iconic idiot, and this polished sequel with Owen Wilson and Will Ferrell qualifies as simply sidesplitting. Meaning, if you love to laugh at morons, this frivolous, fast-moving comedy of errors is sure to please. Rather than rehash “Zoolander,” Stiller and “Zoolander 2” scribes Justin Theroux, Nicholas Stoller, and John Hamburg have dished up something different that is devastatingly dopey. The villains don’t brainwash Derek Zoolander to bump off a prominent prime minister to prevent passage of sweatshop labor reforms. Instead, our heroes thwart the villain who wants to eliminate all rival clothing designers. Similarly, like the original, “Zoolander 2” glitters with a constellation of star cameos equal to its antecedent, featuring Macaulay Culkin, Billy Zane, Sting, Lenny Kravitz, John Malkovich, Kiefer Sutherland, Katy Perry, Demi Lovato, M.C. Hammer, Susan Boyle, Benedict Cumberbatch, Tommy Hilfiger, Willie Nelson, and Kim Kardashian West. For the record, Stiller made his premiere appearance as Derek Zoolander in 1996 at VH1 Fashion Awards. Happily, sight gags and shenanigans galore ensue as our past-their-prime male supermodels emerge from exile to reestablish their dominance in the fashion world.
“Zoolander 2” unfolds with an atmospheric homicide straight out of a crime thriller. Two anonymous assassins in leather jackets and helmets who wield machine guns pursue a mysterious figure on foot and corner him in a dark alley in Rome. The doomed quarry turns out to be Justin Bieber. One of the gunmen peppers Bieber’s chest with a hail of lead. Sinking mortally wounded to his knees, Bieber warns his assassin that they will never achieve their ghoulish goal. The audacious villains out have targeted the “world’s most beautiful people” for extermination. The Bieb takes a selfie, draws his last breath, and dies with a goofy ‘Blue Steel’ expression. Special Agent Valentina Valencia (Penélope Cruz of “Bandidas”) and the Interpol Global Fashion Division launch a search for Derek Zoolander. Zoolander, it seems, made ‘Blue Steel’ his signature expression. At this point, director Ben Stiller and his three scribes pull off something impressive for any sequel. Not only do they seamlessly bridge a 15 year gap with the original, they also concoct a new adventure for our heroes. We are treated to a timeline of the calamities that has transformed Derek Zoolander’s life into a nightmare. “Zoolander 2” picks up with news about the destruction of the Derek Zoolander Center for Kids Who Can’t Read Good and Wanna Learn to Do Other Stuff Good Too. Derek’s wife Matilda (Christine Taylor of “The Wedding Singer”) died when the center collapsed on her because it was constructed of Popsicle sticks and glue. Later, Derek proves himself an unfit father, and Child Services rescue Zoolander’s son Derek Jr., and takes him into protective custody. The loss of his son came about when a neighbor caught Zoolander on video trying to figure out how to cook spaghetti. Tearfully, Derek retires once again from modeling, labels himself “a hermit crab,” and withdraws to a cabin in “extreme northern New Jersey,” where he grows a billy goat beard. Meantime, Hansel has suffered, too. The tragic Zoolander Center collapse left him with an unspeakable scar across his right cheek that terrifies Derek when he finally gets a glimpse of it. Let’s not forget Zoolander’s nemesis, clownishly coiffed clothing designer Jacobim Mugatu (Will Ferrell of “Stepbrothers”), who returns to incite greater anarchy for Derek and Hansel. Mind you, the authorities handed the wicked Mugatu a stiff prison sentence, and the European Union Fashion Prison, where he serves time, resembles a gargantuan sewing thimble. Mugatu is chained by the neck to a huge pole at the center of a room with a “Silence of the Lambs” vibe to it. Eventually, he overwhelms our harebrained hero and escapes. Ultimately, Hansel reconciles his differences with Zoolander, and they set out to track down the elusive Mugatu. Along the way, our heroes wind up in Rome after Billy Zane bears them each a message with an invitation from a fashion diva Alexanivya Atoz (Kristen Wiig of “Bridesmaids”), a Donatella Versace knockoff, to attend her show. Long-suffering Derek is reunited with his long, lost son (Cyrus Arnold of “Hardcore Harry”) at a Roman orphanage. Initially, Derek doesn’t recognize junior because the younger Derek is obese.
Naturally, Derek and Hansel are still as ‘dumb and dumber’ as they were in “Zoolander.” They have no idea what they have gotten themselves into when they arrive in Rome. Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson haven’t lost their charismatic camaraderie, and they surpass themselves as the super-simpletons. The evil Mugatu remains as monstrous as usual, but this time he cradles a stuffed doggie rather than the real thing. Will Ferrell looks as absurdly ridiculous as he was in “Zoolander,” and he overshadows everybody with his hilarious antics. The scene where Ferrell keeps tearing off disguises generates non-stop laughter. Spanish-born beauty Penélope Cruz appears sexy in a swimsuit when she saves Derek’s life. Some of the “Zoolander 2” gags are genuinely imaginative. When Zane brings Derek a message at the beginning, the message comes in a box that projects a hologram of Alexanya as she addresses Derek. Of course, this is reminiscent of the original “Star Wars” when R2D2 displayed a hologram of Princess Leia. Stiller staged the snappy PG-13 exercises in hilarity on location in and around the Eternal City, and Rome, Italy, has never looked more exotic thanks to “Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens” lenser Daniel Mindel’s dazzling widescreen cinematography. As expected, Leesa Evans’ costume designs are appropriately outlandish to suit the occasion. Anybody who laughed themselves silly at the first “Zoolander” should enjoy “Zoolander 2.”
“Your imagination can take you where nothing else can.” Van Roberts