Zoolander 2 returns unfashionably late

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It has been 15 years since Ben Stiller’s much-loved male model alter ego Derek Zoolander hit the runway, working his famous poses and that Blue Steel pout in the 2001 cult comedy that satirised the fashion industry.

Zoolander’s second coming – both the man and the movie – was highly anticipated and promoted with much fanfare.

Last March, when Stiller and co-star Owen Wilson, who plays rival-turned-friend Hansel, crashed a Valentino show at Paris Fashion Week, the crowd recognised the “models” as Zoolander and Hansel and leaped off their seats for photos of the actors as they sashayed down the runway.

Fast forward to today.

Zoolander 2, released in the United States three weeks ago, did not receive a similar response. Critics ripped the sequel apart and its box-office takings of US$27 million (S$38 million) were dismal, given the hype on social media.

They say fashion is timeless.

But did the sequel come 15 years too late?

Opening here today, Zoolander 2 sees Zoolander saying goodbye to his self-imposed retirement as he is lured back to the limelight to attend a major fashion event in Rome.

There, he reunites with Hansel and both get embroiled in a conspiracy where the world’s most beautiful superstars are mysteriously murdered.

Throughout the movie, Zoolander is called “old” and a “has-been” as the world’s most dim-witted male model attempts to make a comeback.

In their first catwalk after a decade, Zoolander and Hansel arrive in a pair of coffins, wearing jumpsuits with name tags that read “Old” (Zoolander) and “Lame” (Hansel). Before they can strut their stuff, they are doused by a large bucket of prunes.

Stiller, who directed and co-wrote both movies, may have unintentionally hit the nail on the head.

The glory days of ridiculing male vanity are long over.

What makes it harder to recapture the magic is that the original Zoolander was not even a runaway commercial success to begin with – a fact acknowledged by Stiller.

“It wasn’t like a slam-dunk movie idea,” the 50-year-old US actor told Vogue magazine.

“For the most part, we were on our own – both in the fashion world and with the studio. They were just like, ‘We don’t quite know what this is’.”

The first film was a victim of bad timing as it was released two weeks after 9/11 so its underperformance at the US box office – it raked in US$45 million (S$62 million) – was understandable.

But the US$28 million film had legs and did well on home video and overseas with global box-office earnings of US$61 million, eventually propelling its hero to cult icon status.

Zoolander was banned in Singapore as the plot revolved around the assassination of Malaysia’s prime minister and it also featured excessive use of drugs. However, it received a theatrical release in 2006.

“I think we probably would have made a sequel right after the first one came out, if anybody had wanted it. Nobody went to see it,” said Stiller at the New York premiere of Zoolander 2.

“It’s very easy to make a sequel to Transformers, to a movie that makes a gazillion dollars, but it takes real cojones to make a sequel to a movie that grossed so little money the first time around.”

For one who has helmed the ambitious The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty (2013) and the incredible Tropic Thunder (2008), there is no doubt Stiller has the talent to entertain.

Just as long as he does not tread old ground.


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Thursday, March 3, 2016 – 09:46
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