ARTS

  /  

October 16, 2001

Stiller cons celebrity friends to appear in half-baked skit

“I'm sorry, honey." These are words that I usually don't whisper to my significant other in the midst of a film. Yet as I watched Ben Stiller purse his lips and strut around as Zoolander, male model superstar, and Will Ferrell squeeze himself into another nauseating leather corset getup, I knew it was necessary to apologize for dragging anyone to see this film disaster.

Zoolander is the latest Ben Stiller project. After starring in several well-received comedies such as There's Something About Mary and Meet the Parents and directing moderately successful films such as The Cable Guy and Reality Bites, Stiller thought he could pull off a satire of the professional modeling industry. Not a bad concept. Who doesn't want to make fun of those overpaid, underweight, heroin-addicted, Jell-O for brains models? Yet for a satire to be successful its humor needs to be more than Ben Stiller making funny faces and mispronouncing words.

The plot centers around Derek Zoolander, a world-renowned male model who has won the VH-1 male model fashion award for three years running and is up for an unprecedented fourth victory. Alas, his world is turned upside down when his modeling archrival Hansel (Owen Wilson) nabs the prize. (Side note: We know this is not a serious, factual movie, but are we really supposed to believe that anyone gives a crap about the VH-1 fashion awards? Come on, if it is not “Behind the Music," who watches VH-1?)

Zoolander is a poor little lost model after his defeat at the awards. After trying orange mocha frappuccinos and a stint in the New Jersey coal mines to “find himself," Zoolander returns to the only world he knows: fashion. It is here where he is recruited to model for evil designer Mugato (Will Ferrell) whose leather, pleather and plastic wardrobe and Wizard of Oz munchkin hairdo is bound to give small children nightmares. Unbeknownst to Zoolander, he is brainwashed to assassinate the Prime Minister of Malaysia who is a threat to the whole fashion industry because he plans to raise factory worker wages and do away with child labor. Just ask Kathy Lee how much policies like that can hurt business.

As the story painfully progresses (thank god it only had an 89-minute running time), most of the humor comes in the slapstick form of Zoolander and Hansel posing, making idiotic faces and dim-witted comments. This oh-so-funny brand of humor reaches its apex with a “walk-off" between the two to see who, once and for all, is the greatest male model, a distinction many of us strive for. The two take turns grooving down the catwalk to tunes such as “Beat It" and “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go" while performing death-defying poses and struts. This scene is only partly salvaged by the appearance of David Bowie as a judge.

Zoolander artfully creates humor reminiscent of Dumb and Dumber, but it does not move past it. There is no satire. There are just stupid jokes that cater to the lowest common denominator of American society. Yeah, you might catch yourself laughing at some funny lines, some wacky facial expression, but it's not funny enough to waste 89 minutes of your life. This whole film seems more suited for FOX television (place it right after that equally annoying sitcom “Titus") than for the movie theater.

Ben Stiller must be one hell of a guy. He convinced a lot of quality actors to take roles or make cameo appearances in Zoolander. Now I don't think it was too hard to convince his wife (Christine Taylor) or father (Jerry Stiller) to sign to the project, but what was Jon Voigt doing in this film as Zoolander's coal mining dad? He used to take high quality roles such as in Midnight Cowboy, Coming Home and Conrack. This mistake of a role even tops his recent appearance as FDR in the equally catastrophic film, Pearl Harbor.

Voigt wasn't the only one who made you wonder why they'd signed on to this film. David Duchovny appeared as a conspiracy theorist who also happened to be the world's greatest hand model. Duchovny claims that he is tired of doing “The X-Files," yet he'll take this role? What debt does he owe director Stiller?

Credible actress Milla Jovovich from such films as The Fifth Element and The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc also makes an appearance as Mugato's enforcer. She is in charge of brainwashing Zoolander. After the film, you're asking yourself what the point was of that character that swaggered around in leather (like many of the other characters) and had a bad Russian Natasha (of “Rocky and Bullwinkle") accent.

You also get to wonder what possessed Will Ferrell to sign on. Yes, we do know that it is a requirement for all “Saturday Night Live" performers to take every film role that is thrown at them, no matter the quality. You don't think this is true? Look at how many films that Chris Kattan, Tim Meadows, and David Spade have starred in. Ferrell truly is a funny guy: just look at some of his work on “SNL" (that is if you can stomach it for a full show). He does a killer President Bush impression and even though it gets old, real quick, I still find the cheerleader skit amusing. But why did he agree to be in a film that had a leather wardrobe requirement and forced him to style his hair to resemble the screwed up younger brother of Colonel Sanders?

So unless you want to end up profusely apologizing to someone for taking them to see Zoolander, I suggest you avoid this film at the theater. In fact, avoid this film at Blockbuster and on TV (even if it is a free preview-channel weekend). Ben Stiller may be one heck of a guy and can convince his Hollywood friends to appear in Zoolander, but let me convince you — it is not worth the 89 minutes.