|Ben Stiller||Derek Zoolander|
|Jon Voight||Larry Zoolander|
|Christine Taylor||Matilda Jeffries|
|Directed by||Ben Stiller|
Movies are back, and the public is flocking to see them. After a week in which nothing opened in Santa Fe and only the Mariah Carey flop ?Glitter? tested the waters nationwide, the screens are alive with the sound of movies, as people try to recover that elusive feeling of feeling good. ?Zoolander? might do it for you. The title character is dumb as dirt, but the movie is not. It takes a slender gag and dances with it, managing to keep the laughs percolating most of the way. Writer-director Ben Stiller and his writing partners John Hamburg and Drake Sather have taken what began life as a 1996 VH1 Fashion Awards sketch, and strung it out to feature length with a nimbler hand than you might imagine.
Derek Zoolander is the world?s top male model - or has been, up until now. When he?s beaten out for his fourth straight Male Model of the Year award by blond-tressed upstart Hansel (Owen Wilson), he goes into a funk, and begins to contemplate the heretical notion that there may be more to life than just being really, really incredibly goodlooking. He shocks the fashion world by announcing his retirement, but is soon lured out by an offer from super designer Mugatu (Will Ferrell) to be the face of his new fashion concept inspired by the homeless, a line called Derelicte. But that?s only a cover, Mugatu?s real designs are dastardly and dark.
The fashion industry, it turns out, has been behind every political assassination over the past 200 years. Male models, really really incredibly good-looking without and as vacant as an unfinished building within, are the perfect tools for the job. Mugatu wants the Prime Minister of Malaysia eliminated. The Prime Minister is one of those bleeding hearts who wants to toughen child labor laws in his country and interfere with ?the age-old right of children to work.? This could have serious consequences for the fashion industry. So Zoolander, all unsuspecting, is brainwashed and programmed to do the nefarious deed.
In this space a week ago I wrote about the way the September 11th terror has colored the way we see many things, and here?s another example of that shifted paradigm. A comic premise involving a person or persons brainwashed to carry out a lethal act doesn?t retain the same sublime silliness today that it must have had when Stiller and his partners were writing it. The studio had no way around that one, but it did take the trouble to digitally erase the World Trade Center from several shots of the New York City skyline in an effort to spare the sensibilities of an audience primed for comedy.
But ?Zoolander? is just plain funny, silly stuff. To hold it up as an example of all that?s wrong with America, as Roger Ebert has done in his agonized review (?There have been articles lately asking why the United States is so hated in some parts of the world. As this week's Exhibit A from Hollywood, I offer ?Zoolander,?") is to betray a serious, if pardonable, loss of perspective. This is the kind of thing that inspired the phrase ?Oh, lighten up!? Stiller?s script and direction keep this spoof aloft for longer than you might think possible, and at a trim 85 minutes it?s only a little too long. It?s strewn with cameos that include David Bowie, Winona Ryder, Billy Zane, Garry Shandling and a wonderful scene in a graveyard with David Duchovny as a former star hand model who reveals the dark scope of the plot. Stiller?s pal Owen Wilson is gloriously dim as Zoolander?s rival, and his father Jerry Stiller and his wife Christine Taylor are good in supporting roles.
Male models may not seem like a necessary target for satire, but there?s something so beguilingly ridiculous about the idea that it doesn?t require justification. Stiller creates a character as fabulously glittering and empty as cubic zirconium, and his purse-lipped, penetrating ?Blue Steel? look is hilarious. If you don?t think the idea of Stiller as the world?s top male model is funny, this kind of comedy may well be beneath you. But that would be too bad.
© Text 2002 Jonathan Richards - Filmfreak.be