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IN SHORT: "brilliant" with a capital B. [Rated PG-13 for Sexual Content and Drug References. ]
For three years running, Derek Zoolander (Ben Stiller) has taken Male Model of the Year honors at the VH1 Fashion Awards, probably because of his patented facial look called "Blue Steel". This year, though, he's knocked out by a Razor boarding, yo-yo flipping, Eastern philosophizing, party boy, long haired blonde newcomer called Hansel (Owen Wilson). That, topped by a uncomplimentary cover on Time Magazine (Zoolander can't or won't read the story) is pretty much the end for our hero. With his career in ruins, Derek sets his sights on opening a "School for Kids Who Can't Read Good and Want to Do Other Stuff". If you think that's a simple set up for a ton of dumb model jokes and the cat fight of the century between the rivals, you're wrong.
We can't speak for the rest of the country but, here in New York, we haven't cracked a smile in the two weeks since the destruction of the WTC. We walked into our screening of Zoolander expecting a lame, dumb-ass comedy, which would have been fine by us. On first impression, that's what we got. It was also amusing as hell to consider the possibility of a cadre of superstar fashion designers who secretly control the world and the physically trained-to-perfection operatives whose brains are empty vessels waiting for instructions from manipulative agents.
Once Stiller's Zoolander gets rolling, it's not just a dumb model saying something stupid disposable popcorn flick. It's filled with enough brilliant loop-the-loop gags and star cameos to match the much harder to find comedy Lisa Picard is Famous. If there were enough comedy films to warrant it, both of those movies would make a top ten. Both feature more star cameos than you can shake a stick at but we won't list Zoolander's as this film doesn't need the hard sell. Picard's story is more straightforward. Zoolander's jokes are so clever that the laughs at our screening often came two or three seconds after the jokes were delivered. That means analysis is required of some of 'em. The high brow is matched evenly with the politically incorrect humor so don't let big words like analysis scare you off.
Note the history of this project. Zoolander began its life as a short film for the 1996 VH1/Vogue Fashion Awards, which is not usually a sign given its sisters (MTV) luck with kicking the short stuff up to the big screen. Here, rather than beating a five minute sketch to death, Stiller adds a bizarre enougn pair of bad guys to keep you interested. The phenomenally successful designer named Mugatu (Will Ferrell) and his assistant Katinka (Milla Jovovich) are in thrall to the evil cartel. They have ten days to do as they are told -- find a dimwit model and set him on the path that will make him a killing machine
Which brings us back to our hero. Emotionally destroyed by his failure to turn an awards hat-trick into whatever four in a row is called, Zoolander returns to his home in the coal mining hills of Southern New Jersey, there to rejoin the family business deep inside The Mountain. Rejected by dad (Jon Voight) and family (including an uncredited Vince Vaughn) Derek snaps at a job offer from Mugatu, who has never hired him to headline a show. At this show, whose fashions are based on the clothing styles of the homeless (and thus called "Derelicte by Mugatu") is the Prime Minister of Malaysia (Woodrow Assai) who our hero is about to kill. All that stands in his way is the intrepid investigative journalistic sense of Time Magazine correspondent Matilda Jeffries (Christine Taylor).
We should add that the nice thing about being the writer and director and star and, most important, producer is that you can hire your parents, providing all the necessary income that Social Security doesn't. Those old enough to remember Ed Sullivan know we're talking about dad Jerry Stiller (as Zoolander's crooked agent Maury Ballstein) and mom Anne Meara, who comes and goes in a flash.
Stiller the Younger worked his butt off on this movie. The jokes come at you from all angles whether they be Jovovich's letter perfect Natasha Romanov accent; Jerry Stiller's velour jumpsuit costumes; Will Ferrell's hairdo or any of the dumb stuff in the dialog. We didn't want all that much from Zoolander. We got almost more than we could handle.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Nine Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Zoolander, he would have paid . . .
But then, we haven't laughed in a fortnight. We are so toying with the notion of laying out real green money to see Zoolander again that this rating may actually go up.
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