Viking Night: Zoolander
By Bruce Hall
October 8, 2013
Ben Stiller would like for you to know how hard it is to be really, really ridiculously good looking. He is joined in this unlikely effort by real life pal Owen Wilson, Will Ferrell, John Voight, David Duchovny, Milla Jovovich in half-ass kicking mode, and his father Jerry. I'm looking at this lineup on paper and I'm not sure if it's comedy gold, or a potential plane crash into a train wreck into a row of orphanages. You can probably predict what I'm going to say next, which is that Zoolander doesn't quite come close to either of these extremes. If you want to stick with the transportation analogies, it just kind of rolls straight down the middle of the runway and skims the treetops for a few miles before equipment failure forces it down in a strip mall parking lot with no injuries.
Stiller and Wilson play Derek Zoolander and Hansel McDonald, allegedly the two hottest male models on the planet. I say "allegedly" because although both men are clearly in their physical prime here, neither is quite the reedy, baby-faced piece of veal you normally see in Calvin Klein ads. Still, they seem to put a lot of effort into the material and as successful film stars I'm sure it was nice to walk around in $6,000 socks just like it was any other day, and I salute them for this. The setup is that Hansel's career is on the way up nearly as fast as Derek's is starting to flame out. Little surprise then, when fate deals them both a not so subtle case of role reversal as Hansel upsets Derek for the coveted title of Male Model of the Year.
For Hansel, this is simply an affirmation of how obviously awesome he is. But for Zoolander it's the ultimate humiliation, and he decides to retire in a huff and go do...whatever it is models do when they retire. In real life I assume it involves continuing to be attractive, drinking champagne day and night and eating with extremely tiny cutlery. In this movie, it involves Zoolander making an attempt to return to his roots, not to mention the most jagged subplot in the story. His family members are all coal miners - a proud, ruddy looking bunch who are barely able to string words together, let alone walk entirely upright. They’re also distracting and unnecessary; I’m not sure a character as thin as Zoolander needs even this much backstory.
On the upside, you get to see Vince Vaughn for a minute, so that's nice.
This would be where the Derek Zoolander story ends, were it not for an underhanded fashion Mogul named Mugatu (Will Ferrell - a high point), who is involved in an unfortunate labor dispute with the government of Malaysia, which seems to be phasing out sweatshops. As an enthusiastic member of the shadowy political cabal that controls the modeling industry, Mugatu decides to use the old Manchurian Candidate routine on Zoolander as part of his evil plan to thwart the Malaysians and continue making high quality fashion clothing and accessories using the most precious gift of all - child labor. In case you haven't noticed by this point in the story, Derek is kind of an epic moron, and so are his friends. He's not going to solve the Da Vinci Code of the runway world on his own, and that's where the Love Interest comes in.