Ben Stiller is the master at playing likable losers in films like There’s Something About Mary, Mystery Men and Meet the Parents. Now taking a shot as writer, director and star with “Zoolander,” the result is a success — if you like dumb fun.
Stiller plays Derek Zoolander, the world’s top male fashion model who has developed trademark looks like “Blue Steel.” Funny thing is, all of his “looks” feature precisely the same purse-lipped pose. Zoolander’s world comes crashing down as he loses VH1’s award for top male fashion model. He’s such a dimwit, even when his model nemesis Hansel’s (played by Owen Wilson) name is announced as the winner, he still walks up to receive the award. Zoolander’s single digit I.Q. makes him the perfect guinea pig as the unwitting secret weapon of the fashion underworld. An evil undergroun organization seek to use him as their “Manchurian Candidate-like” secret killing machine. Led by fashion God Mugatu (Will Ferrell who is on fire during the whole film), they plan to off the Prime Minister of Malaysia who has banned child labor, thus crippling the fashion industry’s ability to make cheap clothes. (Strangely, “Zoolander” will open in every country except Malaysia.)
The plot is no more complex than a typical Saturday Night Live feature, but the true success is Stiller’s new character. This pea-brained moron has the stuff to become the most hilarious comedy franchise since Austin Powers. Zoolander’s innocent Gump-like intellect is the secret to his charm, and though basic math and spelling elude him, he is a master at fashion and hair gel. It’s not just the character, but the entire world that Zoolander inhabits. He lives in a world obsessed with things as trivial as fashion. Stiller takes a comedic baseball bat to all things sacred in pop culture and their utter destruction at the hands of biting humor is a joy to watch.
It’s just damn entertaining to see “fashion models” as the object of so many jokes. One of my earliest jobs as a teenager in Detroit (once I had moved on from the world of fast food) was as a videographer for weddings and local fashion shows. I could not get over how simple-minded and out of touch these genetic lottery winners seemed. I mean, dumb as a box of dirt. After being around these people for years during those tortuous shoots, to me, “Zoolander” comes off as practically a documentary.
Stiller is laugh-out-loud funny from start to finish and anyone that may quibble about plot minutiæ, is just not ready to have a good time. I already can’t wait for the sequel.