The first Zoolander, Ben Stiller’s dopey, fitfully funny fashion spoof, was released less than three weeks after the September 11 attacks. Its sequel shows the extent to which another kind of nefarious plot — the cynical quest for world domination through cross-brand synergy — has proven impossible to eradicate on these shores. Set in Rome and glutted with mostly extraneous plot, the follow-up brings together the original’s main trio: Malapropping Derek Zoolander (Stiller) and polyamorous Hansel (Owen Wilson), one-time runway rivals, are now on a mission to save Derek’s plus-size kid from a blood cult led by the evil-queen couturier Mugatu (Will Ferrell).
Though Stiller repeats the same duties — star, director, co-writer — he had in the first movie, the real auteur of Zoolander 2 would appear to be Anna Wintour, who, among the scores of preening, cameoing celebrities in the film, is the only one with the power to put Stiller and his costar Penélope Cruz on the cover of the real February issue of Vogue.
In one of several weak attempts to take on changes in culture over the past 15 years, Derek and Hansel try to figure out whether Benedict Cumberbatch’s trans model All has a “wiener or a vaginer,” the panic reflecting the anxieties of the cis-sausage factory that wrote this movie. Appearing too infrequently, Kristen Wiig, as a Donatella Versace knockoff, kills every time she opens her mouth. Zoolander 2 is a referendum on dying industries: not just the Condé Nast titles that Wintour oversees as artistic director but also the Frat Pack. As my screening companion noted as we left the theater: “The era of the male comedian is over.”