A film cannot live on celebrity cameos alone. But "Zoolander 2" is certainly going to try. Because cameos are low in calories, and "Zoolander 2" hates calories, because they make you fat, and "Zoolander 2" hates fat because it means you're a terrible person. But not as much as "Zoolander 2" hates male models, who are dumb and useless. This seems to be the thought process of the sequel to the stupid-funny cult comedy of 2001 that parodied the world of fashion, in all its petty extravagances and vanities. While the first made endearing dim bulb Derek Zoolander (Ben Stiller) an oft-quoted comedy icon, the too little, too late sequel is definitely not so hot right now.
The film can barely unearth itself from the mountain of celebrity cameos from which it has been crafted. It seems director Ben Stiller and co-writers Nicholas Stoller, John Hamburg and Justin Theroux simply produced a sketchy outline and then group-texted everyone in their phone to stop by the set. The paper-thin plot feels rushed and harried, because it stops every two minutes to make room for random notable names to mug for the camera. To make all of these cameos worse, each celebrity says or does something that refers to their career or notoriety, aggressively wink-wink, nudge-nudging any potential humor into oblivion.
"Zoolander 2" is at its best when parodying the esoteric, ephemeral über-cool denizens of fashion. When Derek (Ben Stiller) and Hansel (Owen Wilson) are coaxed out of hiding into walking a show for fashion icon Alexanya Atoz (Kristen Wiig) and designer Don Atari (Kyle Mooney), they find themselves out of date and out of style among the hippest of the hip. Mooney is spot-on as the wunderkind, irony-drenched hipster sporting normcore duds and spouting bizarre slang that Derek and Hansel just can't keep up with.
This conflict between old and new is jettisoned in favor of a clunky, poorly executed, spy action plot wherein dumbdumb Derek and Hansel join up with an agent from Fashion Interpol, Valentina (Penelope Cruz) to figure out who's killing all the pop stars, and rescue Derek's son from the clutches of evil Mugatu (Will Ferrell). For all the new material that could have been mined for satire, the film chooses instead to overwork old territory from the first time around — Derek's cognitive abilities of a brain-damaged poodle; Mugatu's crazed, bloodthirsty ego; Hansel's all-encompassing libido. There's not enough of Wiig's Alexanya, who makes her dialogue funny simply with her line delivery through a mystifying yet hilarious accent ("hot" becomes "hyeoohtt"). Cyrus Arnold, who plays Derek Jr., is a bright spot — the one character who is sharp, sassy and fully possessed of his mental capabilities, though he's constantly maligned and made fun of.
What frustrates the most is getting a taste of what could have been great in "Zoolander 2," and then seeing it tossed aside in favor of another cameo, another forced joke, another retread of plot points from the original tossed into an inconsistent jumble. Eventually, you'll just be waiting for it to end; the final credits, with Ferrell dancing in his Mugatu get-up, are some of the best moments in the film. But for the preceding hour and 40 minutes, "Zoolander 2" is a really, really, ridiculously hot mess.
Cast: Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson, Penelope Cruz, Will Ferrell, Kristen Wiig
Director: Ben Stiller
Rating: PG-13 for crude and sexual content, a scene of exaggerated violence, and brief strong language
Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes
Theaters: Aksarben, Alamo Drafthouse, Bluffs 17, Majestic, Midtown, Oakview, Regal, Twin Creek, Village Pointe, Westroads