Derek Domike of Advanced Dorks and Deconstructions and the upcoming Dork Reviews show examines 2001’s Zoolander and hopes that he too can unleash Magnum.
My name is not a terribly common one, although I share it with a few fictional characters, notably superspy parody Derek Flint, Spinal Tap bassist and mustache enthusiast Derek Smalls, and vapid narcissist Derek Zoolander. The latter was popular enough that, for a blink-and-you-miss-it kind of moment, I was known as Derelicte (often with the caveat “You can dere-lick my balls, capitán.”) So, when given the opportunity to revisit Ben Stiller’s 2001 cult comedy Zoolander, how could I refuse?
Stiller’s work, for me, is real hit and miss. As a writer and director, he’s produced some brilliant and subversive comedy, like the title we’re about to go more in depth with, along with work like Tropic Thunder and The Ben Stiller Show. There’s another side of Stiller, the neurotic romantic comedy lead, in films like The Heartbreak Kid and Along Came Polly that are personally completely and utterly unappealing and almost painful to watch.
Stiller wrote, directs, and stars as self-involved and simpleminded male supermodel, and eu-googoo-lizer, Derek Zoolander. After feeling his star fading against rising star Hansel (Owen Wilson, the first of many yin-and-yang type moments the two capture on film,) and discredited in an article by reporter Matilda (Mrs. Ben Stiller, and Melody from Nickelodeon’s Hey Dude, Christine Taylor,) Zoolander retires following the loss of his somehow even stupider male model friends in a “freak gasoline-fight accident.” He is then snared into the web of fashion designer/Bond villain Jacobin Mugatu (Will Ferrell, in one of his greatest performances,) and involved in a conspiracy to assassinate the prime minister of Malaysia.
Although it underperformed in the box office, I saw this movie in theaters when it first came out in September of 2001, attendance of which was likely hampered by another even that happened ten years ago. I was amused at the time, and enjoyed it, although in the ten years since, I wonder how well it’s held up.
I find myself remembering a lot of the scenes and the one-liners that have gone on to be the highlights of the film. They are definitely still funny, although my issue comes with some of the material that connects these scenes. Although I’m sure Stiller loves her very much, Christine Taylor is not who I would call a strong or compelling actress, comedic or otherwise. In fact, this seems to be a running problem, there aren’t a lot of funny or strong performances amongst the actresses, most jarring is Mila Jovovich playing Mugatu’s over-the-top Russian lieutenant Katinka Ingabogovinanana, theoretically a very funny character that just falls flat. Really, the only time I felt like there was a funny “female” presence was Andy Dick in drag.
That being said, some of my favorite scenes as a 16-year-old remain hilarious today. The gasoline fight scene. The Derelicte campaign. David Duchovny, playing a hand model version of Fox Mulder, explaining the conspiracy of male model assassins. The Derek Zoolander Center for Kids Who Can’t Read Good (And Wanna Learn To Do Other Stuff Good Too.) The walk-off judged by David Bowie. Basically every scene Will Ferrell is in as Mugatu (“I feel like I’m taking crazy pills!”)
I’ve been struggling to find some new insight, and my opinion of the film upon re-viewing it remains largely unchanged: it’s funny, to be sure, although a bit uneven at times. There are some great comedic performances by some of the gentlemen (Stiller and Ferrell especially, but David Duchovny does some good work, and Patton Oswalt crams the most laughs per second in his brief time.) It’s not worse than I remember it being, but it certainly isn’t better either. I think I feel exactly the same about this movie, which has some strong set pieces in it, but feels like it’s missing something. Maybe, like Zoolander’s Magnum look (or, more accurately, his Deus Ex Machina look,) it still needed more time to develop. But still, for those who haven’t seen it, it’s a very funny film and definitely worth watching.