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Release: 2001, Paramount
Starring: Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson, Christine Taylor, Will Ferrell, Jerry Stiller, Milla Jovovich, David Duchovny
Director: Ben Stiller
MPAA Rating: [PG-13] sexuality, language
Genre: Comedy

3% Body Fat. 1% Brain Activity...

Clueless male supermodel Derek Zoolander (Stiller) is brainwashed into assassinating the prime minister of Malaysia by a conspiracy-laden fashion industry.

What's Good
funny, outrageous characters from a talented cast
moments of utter insanity
appropriately lightweight, upbeat soundtrack

What's Bad
stupid token subplots about true love and estranged family
jokes can get tiresome, or even unfunny at times

Reviewer: Andrew Manning (09/01)

In this comedy based on a character Ben Stiller created for a VH1 skit, the flamboyant world of fashion collides with the cloak and dagger world of international espionage. When the newly empowered prime minister of Malaysia seeks to put an end to sweatshops, fashion industry tyrants are in an uproar. Ruthlessly determined to keep their cheap labor pool in tact, they decide that they must assassinate the interfering head of state. But they need a new operative to do the deed--someone so blank and stupid that they can shape him into a killing machine.

Enter Derek Zoolander, world famous male supermodel and all around clueless buffoon. With an intelligence that makes Fabio look like a genius, he is their perfect programmable drone. Under the guise of treating him to a day spa, they brainwash him with pro-sweatshop propaganda and arrange a meeting with Malaysia's prime minister.

Zoolander, with its focus on a blundering agent of espionage, is reminiscent of the Austin Powers films, and suffers from most of the same flaws as the Mike Myers franchise: characters that tend to be one-joke ponies, gags that miss the mark, and an incomprehensible need to slop on unnecessary sentiment. This last element is the most damaging of all. Rather than focus on being an outrageously stupid comedy, the movie sells out to uninspired Hollywood conventions: Zoolander just has to find true love and land the girl, and Zoolander just has to have issues with his father that get neatly worked out by the story's end. The dream-woman in question is Stiller's real life wife, cutie Christine Taylor. And while she's definitely a nice piece of eye candy, humanizing Zoolander enough so that he falls in love only tones down the character. Jon Voight plays Zoolander's estranged father, another pointless plot conflict--the fact that he comes to terms with his son in a brief moment that isn't even face-to-face makes it feel all the more like a piece of token Hollywood drivel.

All of these negatives aside, Zoolander does have a lot to offer those looking for lightweight entertainment. Ben Stiller's real life dad Jerry Stiller, known best to younger viewers as Seinfeld's rage-prone Frank Costanza, is hilarious as the garishly-clad head of talent agency "Balls Models." He brings a Costanza-like sensibility to the role, snapping at people and occasionally going nuts. Owen Wilson (rival supermodel Hansel) and Will Ferrell (evil fashion designer Mugatu) bring to life two of the three fruitiest characters ever to hold up a mirror to the fashion industry (Ben Stiller, obviously, is the third). X-Files star David Duchovny makes an interesting, self-parodying appearance as a former hand model who sees conspiracies everywhere. With a Mulder-esque flair, he explains how male models were responsible for all the presidential assassinations of the last 200 years.

Christine Taylor and Milla Jovovich bring feminine charm to a landscape otherwise dominated by men (if that's what you want to call strutting, pivoting, vogue-ing male models). Their distinctly opposite characters even give you a choice of what you'd like for dinner: good girl or bad girl, respectively. They even treat us to a brief catfight, something that should be mandatory in all comedies.

Then, of course, there is the man himself: Derek Zoolander. Ben Stiller is great at taking ridiculously stupid characters and just running with them, and his talent is put to good use here. His constant facial gesturing inspires more laughs than any of the spoken jokes, and quickly becomes a trademark that ends the movie on a high note. Zoolander is as dumb as a rock, an all around ignorant bastard more mentally crippled than a stoner at a Cypress Hill concert. His friends are none too bright, either. In one of the funniest scenes, three of his fellow male models actually blow themselves up at a gas station after getting dosed up on orange-mocha frappuccino and screwing around with fire.

Zoolander also has a distinct weakness that has plagued his modeling career for as long as he can remember: he can't turn left. This trivial bit of runway inability is a far more amusing and original character flaw than the estranged father routine. Ben Stiller and co-writer Drake Sather should have given us more of this type of nonsense.

The soundtrack to Zoolander keeps things upbeat. With carefree hits like "Start the Commotion" and classic '80s fare like "Beat It," "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go," and "Relax," the music is a well-chosen, integral part of the movie's happy vibe. (Frankie Goes To Hollywood's "Relax" is a comically important part of the story, and is actually the trigger that turns brainwashed Zoolander into a kung-fu killing machine.)

Zoolander features great performances from a talented cast, but its story is mired by enough stiff, Hollywood sentiment to bog down the creativity. While the final confrontation with the Malaysian prime minister is utterly insane enough to salvage the movie's credibility as pure lunacy, there's not enough material overall to keep the jokes constant and consistent--a problem that usually plagues comedy skits that have been expanded to movie length. Ultimately, Zoolander is neither an unrelenting lampooning of the fashion industry or brainless escapism that can successfully pile on the laughs non-stop. But it has its moments, and can be easily digested with little or no effort.

Rating: 5.5 out of 10 (0=Abysmal, 5=Average, 10=Excellent)

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