WFTB Score: 13/20
The plot: Three-time male model of the year Derek Zoolander is unseated by confident blond newcomer Hansel, sending the older man into retirement and a blue (steel) funk. Eccentric designer Mugatu has a use for Zoolander, but as investigative reporter Matilda finds out, Derek hasn’t been chosen for his ridiculous good looks or anything but the malleability of his brain.
It could have been Zulu, I suppose, or Zardoz (which I’ve tried to watch a few times); but it’s Ben Stiller’s Zoolander that gets the honour of completing the WFTB film alphabet. And a good thing, too; for whilst Stiller’s movie isn’t the most profound piece of cinema in the world, it’s a well-realised exercise in simply having fun.
Stiller plays the titular Derek Zoolander, a fabulously-cheekboned champion male model whose trademark ‘Blue Steel’ glare has ensured his success in his trade and kept him vacuous all his life. However, the humiliation of defeat to arrogant rival Hansel (Owen Wilson), coupled with the tragic death of his flatmates in a gasoline fight, makes Derek re-evaluate his purpose in life – as he puts it, to find out if there’s more to life than simply being ‘ridiculously good-looking.’ This means that fashion designer Mugatu (Will Ferrell), under orders to eliminate the Malaysian Prime Minister (threatening to cut off the supply of child labour which keeps the industry’s products so cheap), has to work extra hard to brainwash Derek and set him up as a patsy, Naked Gun-style. Reporter Matilda (Christine Taylor), initially sniffing around simply to get the scoop on Derek’s shallowness, gets wind of Mugatu’s plan and the evil machinations of his henchwoman Katinka (Milla Jovovich); but with Zoolander proving such a zero-watt bulb, incapable of winning a simple walk-off against Hansel – or turning left – the odds on him not getting brainwashed seem remote.
I watched Forgetting Sarah Marshall at much the same time as Zoolander and it makes for a very interesting comparison; or to put it more broadly, the Apatow sex comedy genre is an interesting development from the comparatively tame films of Stiller and Ferrell (Dodgeball or Anchorman, say) earlier in the decade. For me, the sheer silliness of Zoolander wins out every time. The plot is pleasantly loopy, whilst the characters are larger than life without the actors getting too full of themselves (as Ferrell is sometimes wont to do) – consider what Mike Myers would have done in the title role (‘mugged unstoppably’ is the answer). Stiller’s Zoolander is a lovely study in stupidity and he gets a ton of good jokes; he’s backed up wonderfully by Ferrell’s exotic Mugatu, Wilson’s painfully hip Hansel and Jerry Stiller’s creaky agent, Maury Ballstein. Even model-turned-actress Jovovich has fun as the ball-busting Katinka.
Plus, while cameos can only paper over the cracks of a bad film, they can prove valuable embellishments to an already enjoyable one. Many of the real life figures from the fashion industry went way over my head, but there are two marvellous cameos from Davids Duchovny and Bowie, the latter coming with his own musical sting. Best of all, Vince Vaughn’s in the film and doesn’t say a word! It all adds to the fun of scenes such as Zoolander’s attempts to join his mining father (Jon Voight), or his angry reaction to the model of his proposed ‘Center (sic) for People who don’t Read Good (sic again)’. If the tone of Zoolander is very occasionally self-congratulatory or indulgent, it’s much less of a lairy boy’s club than any Apatow production you can name. That said, while the film treats Christine Taylor with enormous dignity, Matilda is easily the dullest character in the film, mostly lumbered with advancing the plot; and when she does open up, I don’t remotely buy her attraction to the self-obsessed Derek, her ‘fattest kid in school’ sob story or the fact that bullying made her bulimic (though it does offer up the great line ‘You read minds?!’) Taylor is a fairly accomplished actress but possesses little warmth, so props to her agent for getting her good roles in Ben Stiller films.
Zoolander may not turn your comedy world upside-down, and the film’s digs at the pretentiousness of, and the sweatshops employed by, the fashion industry are feather-light. Still, at less than an hour and a half, it has its giddy fun and is over before you have a chance to get even slightly bored. Mr Apatow and friends, please take note.