I could have easily gone my whole life without ever seeing Zoolander
, but as it's being added to the A.V. Club's New Cult Canon this week, I figured it wouldn't hurt to find out what's so cultish about it. Co-written and directed by Ben Stiller, who also stars as the title character, an empty-headed male supermodel, it was Stiller's third feature and his first after 1996's poorly received The Cable Guy
. Of course, Zoolander
ran into a spot of bother itself since it was scheduled to be released in September of 2001, which was probably not the best time for an over-the-top comedy about a past-his-prime male model who's brainwashed into assassinating the new prime minister of Malaysia by a consortium of fashion designers (represented by a high-strung Will Ferrell) who have a vested interest in keeping their sweatshops open. On top of that, Stiller's facing stiff competition from a rookie sensation, the preternaturally laid-back Owen Wilson, to whom he loses Male Model of the Year at the VH1 Fashion Awards (from whence the character of Derek Zoolander first sprang), and an unflattering profile in Time Magazine
courtesy of journalist Christine Taylor, who's the de facto
love interest because who else is Stiller going to fall for? Evil fashionista Milla Jovovich?
If the plot is a little thin on the ground, that's not too troubling since it's mostly an excuse to string together a series of comic set-pieces and shoehorn in as many celebrity cameos as possible. The best example of both is when David Bowie volunteers to judge an impromptu walk-off between Stiller and Wilson, but I also quite liked the Parallax View
-type indoctrination film Stiller is shown that turns him into a Manchurian Candidate
-like assassin. Keeping up the conspiracy-thriller angle, David Duchovny shows up as a Deep Throat-ish informant who turns out to have a surprising connection to the modeling industry. And even I had to laugh when Stiller abruptly announces his retirement and goes home to get in touch with his roots in "coal mining country" -- in Southern New Jersey. If a movie can make me laugh at a New Jersey joke, then it's doing something right. It's just a shame Zoolander
is mostly content to coast on its goofiness. Who knows? With a little more ambition, it could have been the perfect film for its moment.