2001, PG-13, 89 min. Directed by Ben Stiller. Starring Owen Wilson, Ben Stiller, Christine Taylor, Will Ferrell, Billy Zane, Jon Voight, David Pressman, David Duchovny, Milla Jovovich, Jerry Stiller, David Bowie, Andy Dick, Cuba Gooding Jr, Vince Vaughn.

REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Sept. 28, 2001

If the balm of comedy is not only helpful but necessary in times of crisis, consider Ben Stiller a national wartime resource. Bizarre, outrageous, and profoundly silly, Zoolander is so delightfully over the top, so satisfied with its own daft abilities, that it verges on some new sort of comic classicism. Stiller, the comedian, digs deep inside and uncovers a vein of gleeful stupidity last mined to such extravagant extent during the brief run of MTV's much-missed The Ben Stiller Show. Stiller, the writer, knows Hollywood tropes and clichés inside and out, and parlays them into a flurry of satiric storylines, each one arriving with the dumb-funny slap of a professional pratfall. Stiller, the director, wraps the story in a wealth of visual and parodic gags, from throwaways like faux television advertisements to overwrought reaction and insert shots, and from extraneous and goofy onscreen titles to outlandish action set-pieces that go everywhere and nowhere at once. Sublime in its cheerful surrender to the stupid, Zoolander -- the tale of a dim male model striving to be more in the face of a dwindling career -- is pure dumb fun. Like Stiller's perpetually pouting, chisel-cheeked character, Derek Zoolander, this film just wants to be loved on its own terms; it seems petty in the face of such a comic onslaught to note that not all the gags work as well as others, and some are forgotten as quickly as they're tossed off. Comparisons to the Austin Powers films are unavoidable here -- Stiller and co-writer Drake Sather throw everything and the kitchen stank up on the screen and, thankfully, the overwhelming majority of jokes stick. The plot, a contrivance useful mainly as drapery for hanging the movie's fusillade of yuks, is bare-bones: Derek Zoolander, male model, is brainwashed by power-mad designer Jacobim Mugatu (Ferrell, looking for all the world like a towering Oompa Loompa) to assassinate the Prime Minister of Malaysia, who is seeking to reform child labor laws in his country and thereby cut into Mugatu's overhead. Added to this is Zoolander's VH1 Fashion Awards Male Model of the Year upset to pretty-boy newcomer Hansel (Wilson), a strapping blond surfer type surrounded by an ever-present entourage straight out of a Benetton ad and possessing the scruffy good looks it would take a professional make-up artist hours to craft. There's also Derek's agent Maury Ballstein (Stiller's dad Jerry) of Balls Models, investigative journo Matilda Jeffries (Taylor), and a raft of celebrity cameos, among them Fabio, Duchovny, Vaughn, Natalie Portman, über-babe Laura Salem, Lenny Kravitz, and more designers and modelistas than you can shake a Katayone Adeli at, should you choose to do so. Stiller is the focus, but it's Texan Wilson who's the icing on the double half-caf macchiato here; his endearingly dented schnoz and nature-boy panache are by themselves reason enough to submit to the giddy inanities of the film. So good in Wes Anderson's Bottle Rocket, and even better in the otherwise unremarkable Jackie Chan vehicle Shanghai Noon, Wilson simmers waggishly in the background of every film he appears in, waiting to erupt like a velour volcano. Zoolander offers him the chance to take the fore, and he's amazingly smart at being dumb. Not everything here elicits a bellylaugh, sure, but Zoolander's consistent, blissful stupidity is a comic, mental Xanax, soothing in its gormless sense of inspired wack.

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More Ben Stiller Films
Zoolander 2
Are Derek and Hansel still in fashion?

Steve Davis, Feb. 19, 2016

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
This story of a milquetoast with a wild imagination stars Ben Stiller and is as pretty as it is busy. Opens 12/25.

Kimberley Jones, Dec. 20, 2013

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Zoolander, Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson, Ben Stiller, Christine Taylor, Will Ferrell, Billy Zane, Jon Voight, David Pressman, David Duchovny, Milla Jovovich, Jerry Stiller, David Bowie, Andy Dick, Cuba Gooding Jr, Vince Vaughn

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