In the original Zoolander, fashion icon Derek Zoolander (Ben Stiller) says, "I'm pretty sure there's a lot more to life than being really, really, ridiculously good-looking. And I plan on finding out what that is." Well, the vainglorious model finds out a little bit more about life in Zoolander 2, a silly, convoluted sequel that is really, really funny in fits and starts, but fails to match the inspired lunacy of its predecessor.
One of the most amusing things about Zoolander 2 is that it's chock-full of cameos, with Kiefer Sutherland, Benedict Cumberbatch, and Neil deGrasse Tyson among the best of the lot. But the true highlight is Justin Bieber, who gets the movie off to an uproarious start when he is gunned down in ridiculous fashion by a mysterious assassin outside of Sting's home in Rome (this isn't really a spoiler; it's in the trailer). Even though the Bieb is riddled with bullet holes, he finds the strength to pull out his cell phone, snap a selfie with just the right facial pose, edit it, and post it online before he dies. The chief of Interpol's fashion division, Valentina Valencia (a game Penélope Cruz), instantly recognizes that look: It's the same one seen on five other music megastars who were recently murdered. What's more, that look is "Blue Steel," a pose made famous by male supermodel Derek Zoolander. Valencia soon persuades a reluctant Zoolander -- who has avoided the public eye for the past 15 years after his wife died and his son, Derek Jr., was taken away from him by Child Protective Services -- to help her find the killer and uncover the reason why some of the world's most beautiful people are being targeted. In return, she will arrange a reunion between him and his estranged son.
Valencia and Zoolander are joined in their sleuthing in Rome by Hansel (Owen Wilson), Derek's onetime rival; a horrible accident has marred Hansel's once flawless face, and he now lives in seclusion with an "orgy" of 11 women and men, all of whom he has impregnated (including the men). The trio eventually discover a conspiracy to locate and harness the source of the legendary Fountain of Youth. That plot, not surprisingly, is the work of evil mogul Mugatu (Will Ferrell), who is being held in the Isola Del Ditale Fashion Prison for the Criminally Insane and Totally Out There. The final showdown between Zoolander and Mugatu, both of them surrounded by a Who's Who of the fashion elite, is deliciously staged, as Mugatu rips into the industry icons with cruel delight.
Zoolander 2's scattershot approach to humor sometimes falls flat, and it relies too heavily on recycled laughs, but enough gags, like Cumberbatch as a non-gender-specific supermodel and astrophysicist Tyson as himself lamenting the futility of life, are a hoot. It also helps that Stiller, Wilson, and Ferrell bring as much brio and enthusiasm to their vapid roles as they did during their first go-round back in 2001. Also splendid are Kristen Wiig as Alexanya Atoz, a fatuous fashion magnate whose Botox-frozen face and thick Eastern European accent make her every utterance hilariously unintelligible, and Kyle Mooney as a hip designer and Atoz sycophant who continually spews nonsensical gibberish.
Stiller's work as a director here is a huge improvement over his abysmal The Secret Life of Walter Mitty; more importantly, he's surrounded himself with top-notch talent, such as J.J. Abrams' go-to cinematographer Dan Mindel (Star Wars: The Force Awakens). The film is beautifully shot and makes the most of Rome's iconic locations, including stops at the Pantheon, the Palazzo della Civiltà, and the Baths of Caracalla. If nothing else, Zoolander 2 is really, really, ridiculously good-looking.