Zoolander 2 (2016)

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threehalfstar

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It’s been fifteen years since the release of the original Zoolander, which seems like an awfully long stretch of time before deciding the world needs a sequel. A lot has happened since 2001, including (perhaps least importantly) a major turnaround on Ben Stiller’s fashion world comedy’s cultural cache. Zoolander suffered mixed-to-negative reviews upon its initial release, but has since grown a strong cult following that seems too large to even consider “cult” at this point. I even remember personally going into the theater prepared to hate Zoolander‘s guts as a grumpy teenager & being wholeheartedly won over as soon as the explosive Wham!-soundtracked gas station gag in the first act. The funny thing about Zoolander‘s fifteen-years-late sequel is that it’s on the exact same trajectory for long-term cultural success as the first film. The reviews are dire. The box office numbers are hardly any better. However, the dirty little secret is that Zoolander 2, while being nowhere near as perfectly inane as its predecessor, is actually a damn fun time at the movies. Nowhere near every joke lands in the film, but it’s smart to flood you with enough impossibly idiotic humor that you’re bound to laugh at something, maybe even more often than you’d expect.

In order to justify its own existence, Zoolander 2 has to undo a lot of the happy ending denouement of the original. Former male models/makeshift political intrigue heavies Derek Zoolander (Ben Stiller) & Hansel (Owen Wilson) must again start from the bottom. Hansel has been horrifically scarred & is experiencing growing pains with his in-effect wife, an orgy of weirdos. Derek’s own wife has passed away due to his own failures as a businessman & custody of his son has been revoked by the state due to his total lack of parenting skills in areas as basic as “how to make spaghetti soft”. In order to reclaim their estranged familial relationships & earn back their rightful place on top of the fashion world, Hansel & Derek have to repair their irrevocably broken friendship, putting aside the narcissism that plagues them both so deeply. Obviously, the plot doesn’t matter too much in a comedy as aggressively vapid as this, but I do think there’s something oddly sweet about Zoolander 2‘s central bromance that wasn’t nearly as fully realized in the first film. Derek & Hans really do need each other. They’re entirely codependent in their joint efforts to understand a world that doesn’t make sense to their tiny, uncomprehending minds. It’s a fascinating, even touching companionship even if it is an assertively brainless one.

Zoolander 2 does have an Achilles heel, but it’s not exactly the first place you’d expect. The film sidesteps most concerns about being late to the table in terms of following up its original iteration by making the outdated, past-their-prime cultural irrelevance of the its protagonists a major plot point. The redundancy of a second film following the same protagonists as they transition from male modeling to a life in political intrigue is also avoided by adding concerns about familial bonds and, absurdly enough, radical Biblical interpretations & quests for immortality into the mix. Where the film gets a little exasperating is in its never ending list of cameos & bit roles. Even in the film’s trailer swapping an appearance by David Bowie for the much lesser musical being/tabloid fixture Justin Beiber felt like a weak trade-off (although Bieber is actually far from the worst cameo on deck; his time is brief & fairly amusing). The film is overstuffed with both celebrity cameos & SNL vets dropping in for a dumb joke or two. Will Ferrell was a welcome return as the impossibly wicked megalomaniac Mugatu, Penélope Cruz was charming (not to mention breathtakingly gorgeous) as a secret agent for INTERPOL’s fashion division, and current SNL cast member Kyle Mooney proved himself to be a stealth MVP as a double-talking sleazebag hipster piece of shit who’s ironically stuck in the nu metal 00s (an archetype he always nails without fail). These are just a few faces in a sea of many, though, and the nonstop torrent of names like Kristen Wiig, Willie Nelson, Fred Armisen, Katy Perry, and whoever else felt like walking through the film’s perpetually open door did little for Zoolander 2 except to make it feel a little sloppy & out of control.

There were thing I loved about Zoolander 2 & things I easily could’ve done without. The film’s Looney Tunes physics & complete disinterest in stimulating the intellect felt entirely in tune with the original’s sensibility. The vaguely transphobic joke about Benedict Cumberbatch’s androgynous model All in the trailer is not at all improved by being expanded in the movie. Even though Hansel & Derek are close-minded imbeciles who believe things like fat = bad person, their treatment of All is an uncomfortable mixed bag at best & mostly just distracts from the film’s better realized gags. Many of the celebrity cameos & bit roles equally feel like a waste of time that could’ve been better step, but Zoolander 2 decisively aims for a quantity over quality M.O. & by the time the film finds its stride far more of its jokes land than fall flat. I spent most of Zoolander 2‘s runtime laughing heartily, which might as well be the sole requirement for a movie this militantly irreverent to succeed as a finished product. It’s not the best comedy in the theater right now (that would be Hail, Caesar!), but it’s also not the worst (*cough* Deadpool *cough*) & I could easily see myself watching/enjoying the film multiple times in the future. If nothing else, that’s a far better experience than I expected based on its early reviews, which is pretty much how this whole ordeal worked out the first time around in 2001.

-Brandon Ledet

A Night at the Roxbury (1998)

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fourstar

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My favorite soundtrack for kitchen work is a genre of music I like to call “Gay 90s”. Long forgotten pop acts like La Bouche, The Real McCoy, Snap!, and C&C Music Factory are great motivation for a stressful service industry shift & I’ve been relying on them for moral support a great deal lately. That’s why it felt like an appropriate time to revisit A Night at the Roxbury, a sublimely dumb comedy about a pair of club-hopping airheads who survive on a strict diet of tacky suits, Gay 90s club music, and bad cologne. I have fond memories of this movie from when I was a kid & I’m sure I’m not alone there, but it’s far from the universally loved Saturday Night Live-related properties like Wayne’s World or Tommy Boy or even the recent cult-inductee MacGruber. It’s tempting to say that the film was way ahead of its time, given how much costar Will Ferrell’s comedic stylings have become part of the cultural zeitgeist in the last decade (while Chris Kattan has been left behind & forgotten), but the truth is that the movie is so 90s it hurts. If you squint at A Night at the Roxbury the right way it can be seen as a Step Brothers prototype with a much  healthier family dynamic, but I’m not sure  that prescient element is strong enough to overshadow how much of the film is mired in 90s SNL & Gay 90s dance music – two things I happen to love very much.

The problem a lot of SNL sketches-turned-movies have is that they have no idea how to establish a sense of purpose. Recurring SNL sketches can sometimes feel stretched a little thin at two-to-five minute intervals, so the idea of sustaining these properties for full-length film can often be disastrous. A Night at the Roxbury is off to a worrisome start when it recreates its SNL sketch origins in its entirety in the opening two minutes of its runtime . . . which then leaves the question of just what the hell it’s going to do with the remaining 80. You can’t just build an entire film around two gross club rats bopping their heads to Haddaway’s “What is Love?“, right? The film provides some necessary background information its protagonists were missing, like a name (The Butabi Brothers), jobs (they work at their dad’s “fake plant store”), short-term goals (getting laid), and longterm aspirations (opening a dance club where the outside looks like the inside of a typical club & vice versa). There’s also a little tinkering with the sketches’ basic premise, where the brothers imply that they’re cokeheads & bimbos, by making them out to be wholesome virgins. For the most part, though, A Night at the Roxbury succeeds in expanding its limited origins by structuring the plot as a traditional love story. It just so happens that the love is shared between two brothers instead of two potential sex partners.

Of course, the film is more commendable as an irreverent comedy & a 90s time capsule than it is for its narrative strengths. From the brothers’ voguing-while-driving tendencies to the beach butts to Dan Hedaya (the dad from Clueless) playing a father figure to a throwaway line about “dancing The Macarena with Donald Trump”, the movie is an incredibly inclusive collection of the era’s trashiest calling cards. There’s also some completely purposeless irreverence in humorous details like washed-up actor Richard Grieco’s role as washed-up actor Richard Grieco and in random asides like the line “Yeah, yeah, yeah Joanie Loves Chachi, but does Chachi give a flying fuck about Joanie?” What’s most impressive, though, is how these elements are mixed into an oddly sad platonic love story about two over-primped buffoons who desperately want to pick up women but don’t know at all how to interact with them on a personal, intimate level. In that way, considering all of A Night at the Roxbury‘s irreverent humor, 90s time capsule charms, and oddly sad platonic love story the movie works kinda comfortably as a masculine equivalent to Romy & Michelle’s High School Reunion, another comedy that’s earned a lot of goodwill simply through the passage of time.

As far as the film works as an onscreen version of Gay 90s Dance Music: The Movie, it’s pretty much everything I wanted it to be. La Bouche & all my old friends were there, including a bunch of hit-makers I had completely forgotten: No Mercy, Ace of Base, Amber, etc. There’s also six instances of Haddaway’s “What is Love?” playing in the film (once as elevator music), which felt like the perfect amount, considering how essential it was to the comedy sketch source material. The next time I’m jamming at work to LaBouche or The Real McCoy I’ll now have a very specific set of images to accompany the music, as well as a pretty easy to nail head-bob dance move. I couldn’t have asked for more.

-Brandon Ledet