Rated PG-13 - Running Time: 1:25 - Released 9/28/01

Ever since There's Something About Mary catapulted him from the host of a popular MTV comedy series to household word status, Ben Stiller has been trying to re-create whatever it was that constituted that movie's magic. He's had hits (Keeping The Faith), misses (Mystery Men), and in-betweens (Meet The Parents), but never reached the kind of megahit status he achieved in Mary. Zoolander, his self-directed, self-written (with Drake Sather and John Hamburg) star vehicle featuring his simple-minded male model character, Derek Zoolander, isn't going to do it either. But it's not as bad as its trailers make it look.

Following the formula originated in the made-for TV shorts Derek Zoolander: Male Model (1996) and Derek Zoolander University (1997), the film centers around the beautiful but dim-witted Derek, whose various steely-eyed, puckered-lipped facial expressions (or "looks," as he calls them), all of which are the same, have made him the top male model in the U.S. for four years running. That position is about to be challenged, however, by the up-and-coming Hansel (Owen Wilson), a pretty-faced, puckering blond who is into extreme sports and recreational drug use. Covering the story for Time magazine is reporter Matilda Jeffries (Christine Taylor, a.k.a Mrs. Ben Stiller), who at first finds Derek vain and repugnant, but soon discovers that he may be in danger. It seems that eccentric fashion mogul Jacobim Mugatu (Will Ferrell, dolled up in a poodle-style hairdo to match his poodle-style poodle), who has hired Derek for an upcoming gig, has plans to brainwash him and train him to kill the new Malasian prime minister. This is because the new P.M. has pledged reform in child labor laws, which will force the U.S. fashion industry to pay fair wages to the Malasian sweatshop-working children who make their products.

While the idea of this film is questionable at best, Stiller has apparently gained some recognition for his good-natured lampooning of the male fashion modeling industry by having his short films appear at the MTV fashion awards to general acclaim. So the logical next step would be to cash in and make a big-budget Hollywood movie. The film is dumb and generally unfunny, but it has its moments. One of its fun aspects is the inclusion of numerous cameos by people like David Bowie, Andy Dick (in extreme, Oompa-Loompa-esque make-up), Cuba Gooding Jr., Lenny Kravitz, Natalie Portman, and Winona Ryder, among others. Also on board are Stiller's father Jerry (Seinfeld's Frank Costanza) as Derek's agent, and a scruffy and unkempt David Duchovny as the former model who tips Matilda off to Mugatu's sinister plot.

Don't go to see Zoolander for incisive, witty comedy or interesting characters. Go for the purpose of seeing Will Ferrell in a poodle wig screaming "Kill the prime minister!" with an orange face, as seen in a hallucination during Derek's brainwashing session. Don't go for an intelligent plot or a heartwarming romance, but go to see Christine Taylor being serviced by half a dozen male models while under the influence of mind-altering Asian tea. Don't go to see a biting satire of the U.S. fashion modeling industry, go to see Ben Stiller attempt to pull his leopard-print bikini underwear off without removing his pants. That's the kind of thing you just can't see anywhere else. ***

Copyright 2001 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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