Zoolander 2 spends a good chunk of time undoing the happy ending of the first movie. In the fifteen years since then, international superstar male model Derek Zoolander (Ben Stiller) has lost his wife in a tragic accident, had his son taken away from him, and gone into hiding. His friend and fellow male model Hansel (Owen Wilson) has gone into hiding as well after being disfigured in the same accident that claimed the life of Derek’s wife. Both are drawn out of hiding by an invitation from fashion magnate Alexanya Ayoz (Kristen Wiig) to go to Rome to be part of a new show.
In Rome, the two deal with being washed up and their own personal issues. Derek wants his son back, and Hansel is faced with new responsibilities. While all this is happening, the two are approached by Interpol agent Valentina Valencia (Penelope Cruz), who asks for Derek’s help in investigating a series of pop star murders. This investigation leads to a vast conspiracy in the fashion world, one that might be tied to an ancient prophecy and the bloodline of the world’s very first male model.
There’s a lot going on in there. The film busies itself with various concerns, perhaps to shield itself from the fact that there just isn’t much left in the comedic gas tank of this character. Because once stripped of its busywork, all the film has left are many of the same jokes delivered in the first movie. The movie will later comment on the ridiculousness of its own plot, but that doesn’t exactly excuse it from the original sin. There are a few inspired gags here and there, but the film as a whole feels sluggish and desperate.
Outside of that, the movie is mainly a parade of cameos. This was done in the first movie as well, but here it feels kind of pointless. Actors, pop stars, and major personalities from the world of fashion pop up as themselves. Some of it is mildly amusing, but a lot of it seems to be built entirely on simple recognition. Worse yet, there are scenes that seem to slow down because of the presence of the cameos. The film can’t quite hide the fact that some of these cameos had to be shot on separate days, these people never quite sharing the same physical space. That’s always a real hurdle in any kind of production, but it feels doubly worse in a comedy.
At best, the film offers a platform to some of the best comedic talents around. Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson are always fun, even if these characters are feeling a little tired. Will Ferrell is back as well, and his inspired lunacy goes a long way. Kristen Wiig and Kyle Mooney are no everyone’s cup of tea, but they ply their respective schticks pretty well. Penelope Cruz wholly commits to her character’s strange set of neuroses. The film is stacked with talent, which makes it reliance on celebrity cameos all the more frustrating. It doesn’t really need them.
Zoolander 2 is a movie that lacks purpose. It doesn’t have much left to say about the world of fashion, or anything particularly smart to say at all. And this would be easier to forgive if the film were just funnier. But it feels tired and dated, its characters already taken past these points before, these jokes already made. The first Zoolander film was pretty shaggy as well, but it gains something from the freshness of its character. Almost everything in this sequel feels pretty stale.