Comedies about stupid people acting just like their intelligence indicates are films that rarely register well with me. Zoolander is such a comedy, although I actually had a good time with it, even if it forgot what it was trying to do for most of the time it was playing. We open up with a group of executives claiming that the Prime Minister of Malaysia will ruin their business because he is trying to abolish child labor laws. They decide that they need someone to assassinate him, and we assume that the plot will revolve around the assassination attempt.
This isn’t what happens though. They find their pawn early on; Derek Zoolander (Ben Stiller) is chosen for the job. He’s just stupid enough to be brainwashed into do it, although this only happens mid-way through, and the attempted murder only occurs at the very end. Instead, we get a satire of the life of a male model, which probably ends up being funnier than the “plot” (to use the term loosely) would be if stretched out over the entire film, as well as being far more enjoyable than it really has the right to be.
First, we need to have Derek fall from grace, so to speak. He begins the film as “Male Model of the Year”, three years running. His only competition comes from Hansel (Owen Wilson). There’s an awards show, the results of which I won’t disclose, but suffice to say it leads Derek heartbroken, even if he does get to be on-stage. And then his friends are killed, and he announces his retirement from being a male model, citing that he wishes to fund a school called “The Derek Zoolander Center for Kids Who Can’t Read Good and Wanna Learn to Do Other Stuff Good Too.”
This retirement is short-lived when fashion mogul Jacobim Mugatu (Will Ferrell) decides to hire him for a new line inspired by the homeless. It’s here where the brainwashing occurs, and the plot begins to move towards the planned assassination, which will happen at a fashion show in a matter of days. There’s also a reporter who ends up being Derek’s potential love interest played by Ben Stiller’s wife Christine Taylor.
This basic plot takes a backstage to most of the time we watch Zoolander. At most, maybe seven scenes end up directly dealing with this plot, with the rest spent making fun of the modeling industry, as well as having a few throwaway gags. Derek has a father played by Jon Voight, although his character had no reason to be included except to make us laugh. And I did laugh, especially when Voight says that he isn’t a professional actor, all while attempting not to wink at the camera.
How Ben Stiller managed to become the best male model in the world is still beyond me. His character had apparently been in the industry for a long time, although an even more attractive actor would have been more believable. Fabio makes a cameo appearance at one point, and even he would have been more believable as the top male model. I mean, even switching the roles of Wilson and Stiller would have kept me from wondering as much as I did. This is one film where criticizing an actor’s appearance is fair game, and Stiller did not look the part in my eyes.
At least Stiller gives his characters personalities, unique voices, and little subtleties that make them hilarious. While he may not look like a model, Stiller did a good job acting like a moron who can’t pronounce any word with more than two syllables. Wilson and Ferrell managed to not make me hate their characters, which I appreciated. There are also a ton of celebrity cameos in Zoolander, even if most of them end up being pointless shout-outs.
But the most important part of a comedy is whether or not I was having fun. And for the most part, I was. I laughed quite a lot with Zoolander, and to me, that means it’s a good film. The problems it has end up not being all that important, because each scene was usually good for a laugh or two. I was enjoying watching this film, which is what a comedy is supposed to do, even if it doesn’t flow all that well.
The problem with largely ignoring the plot means that there’s little to drive your characters, and the pacing feels way off. Many scenes also feel like they are there with the sole intention to make you laugh. While they accomplish that goal, skilled writers and directors manage to work the plot into these types of scenes, instead of having them feel secular.
I also felt like the ending came far too quickly and felt like it should have wrapped things up even better than it did. Some characters needed a bigger conclusion, and even the much talked about assassination ends up leaving us wanting more. Zoolander‘s runtime was not even 90 minutes, and while I wouldn’t claim that it needed to be much more than it is, a few more minutes at the end would have helped.
Zoolander is a film that needed to tie in its plot more often, cast a different actor than Ben Stiller as its lead, and needed to finish much stronger. Despite all this, it’s funny, and that’s by far the most important point in a comedy. Since I ended up laughing a lot more than I thought I would with a comedy about a stupid person, I have to give Zoolander a pass. I simply had fun, and that’s all you need with this type of film.