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"ZOOLANDER"
(2001) (Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson) (PG-13)

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QUICK TAKE:
Comedy: As a dimwitted and vain, veteran male model tries to cope with being overshadowed by an upstart rookie in the business, he doesn't realize that he's been earmarked as the patsy in an international fashion conspiracy to assassinate a prime minister.
PLOT:
Derek Zoolander (BEN STILLER) is a dimwitted, but vain model who's been in the business for years and recipient of the Male Model of the Year award for several years running. Thus, when he loses out to Hansel (OWEN WILSON), an upstart and very popular rookie, Zoolander's world is turned upside down. Suddenly realizing that he must have another purpose in life, the model shocks everyone, including Maury Ballstein (JERRY STILLER), his longtime agent, when he announces his retirement.

Yet, when Derek's coal miner father, Larry (JON VOIGHT), rejects his return home, the model returns to the only world he knows. Yet, little does he realize that he's been targeted to be the patsy in an international fashion conspiracy aimed at killing the Malaysian Prime Minister. It seems the ruler has endangered the use of overseas child labor, thus necessitating flamboyant fashion designer Mugatu (WILL FERRELL) to find as assassin.

With the designer's catty assistant, Katinka (MILLA JOVOVICH), watching over him, Zoolander agrees to appear in Mugatu's latest fashion show, not realizing he's been brainwashed to terminate the leader. Time Magazine reporter Matilda Jeffries (CHRISTINE TAYLOR), however, knows something suspicious is occurring and eventually discovers the nefarious plot. From that point on, she and others do what they can to keep Zoolander from carrying out his subconscious order.

OUR TAKE: 6 out of 10
Moviemaking is much like cooking and serving a meal. Both involve the assembly of ingredients and an expert hand at mixing them together and creating something that everyone hopes will excite the tastes of those eager to consume their product. Just like the culinary business, sometimes the cinematic results are exquisite and everyone can't get enough, and at others, the soufflé falls flat and consumers pass it by.

It's hard to predict how they'll react to "Zoolander," Ben Stiller's latest goofy comedy in which he not only stars, but also serves as its director and co-writer. I can say without reservation, however, that the film - based on a character the performer created for the 1996 VH1/Vogue Fashion Awards - is missing that extra spice needed to give it the kick for which viewers will likely be craving.

Rather akin to the "Austin Powers" films where an oblivious but cocksure character finds himself involved in a nefarious plot that exists within a movie spoofing other material, this effort isn't as successful or funny as those Mike Myers films. Yet, it's near constantly amusing and should be lauded for giving it the old college try, even if the story concept and execution aren't exactly as sharp and hilarious as one would like or expect for a film like this.

Starting off much like "Powers," the film has a certain innate charm and goofiness to it, but unfortunately also feels flat right from the get-go. Mocking the world of male models, any number of grandiose and self-important ads and a few older films for good measure, the picture certainly arrives preloaded with a decent amount of potential.

Yet, Stiller (who directed "The Cable Guy" and "Reality Bites") and co-writers Drake Sather (making his feature film debut) and John Hamburg ("Safe Men," co-writer of "Meet the Parents") don't pursue the jugular vigorously enough, resulting in a spoof that's amusing and occasionally clever, but far too often benign and unimaginative for its own good.

Much of the material stems from the dimwittedness of the two central male models - Stiller and costar Owen Wilson - and such material is occasionally funny in a "Dumb and Dumber" sort of fashion. Nonetheless, a little bit of that goes a long way and Stiller and company occasionally take the material a bit too far, effectively running it into the ground.

That, and the lack of some much-needed zest will likely result in many more viewers with smiles on their faces than hearty laughs coming from their bellies. At times, it almost seems as if Stiller was more concerned with the number of fashion and entertainment celebrities he could round up to appear in cameo roles than in crafting some truly hilarious material, as the film is filled with more such appearances than actual hilarious moments.

That said, as the title character, Ben Stiller ("Meet the Parents," "Keeping the Faith") is amusing to watch. I've always enjoyed his performances - be they in feature films or skits - and he certainly has no qualms about embarrassing himself by playing the character to full goofy and zany hilt. Yet, much like the film in which he appears, the character is missing that extra something special that would send it over the top (as occurred with Myers in those "Austin Powers" films).

Playing his comic foil, Owen Wilson ("Shanghai Noon," "Meet the Parents") is as fun to watch as usual, but he too never quite kicks the character into high gear. Will Ferrell ("Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back," "Superstar"), on the other hand, often goes a bit too far in the opposite direction, occasionally making his outrageous character a bit more annoying than funny.

Christine Taylor ("The Wedding Singer," the two "Brady Bunch" films) - a.k.a. Mrs. Ben Stiller -- is decent but otherwise unremarkable as a reporter looking for a scoop, but both Milla Jovovich ("The Claim," "The Fifth Element") and Ben's real life father, Jerry Stiller ("Hairspray," TV's "Seinfeld"), are pretty much wasted in their respective roles.

Jon Voight ("Lara Croft: Tomb Raider," "Pearl Harbor") and David Duchovny ("Evolution," "Return to Me") briefly appear in what amount to some extended cameo roles - with the former appearing quite funny while sporting the same funky/fluffy hairdo as Stiller's character and the latter once again playing off conspiracy based material - but neither are around long enough to make the scenes in which they appear as funny as they could have been.

Fortunately offering enough funny scenes and individual bits to offset the material that may have seemed hilarious on paper or in pre-production rap sessions but somehow lost their luster in the translation to the big screen, the film certainly isn't a labor to sit through and is mostly enjoyable to watch.

One can't help wishing, however, both while watching the film and thinking about it afterwards, that the filmmakers had added a bit more comic zest and effective zaniness to spice things up a bit. Amusing, but not as hilarious as it seems like it might or should be, "Zoolander" rates as a 6 out of 10.




Reviewed September 25, 2001 / Posted September 28, 2001


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