directed by Ben Stiller
(Paramount, 2001)

Lounging in my living room the other morning in my decidedly unfashionable flannel pajamas (the ones with baby rice cereal stuck to the leg and mashed banana on the sleeve), it hits me: There are few things in this world more inane than the world of male modeling.

One of them is Zoolander, Ben Stiller's comedic tale about -- you guessed it -- the world of male modeling.

Stiller's Derek Zoolander, VH1's Male Model of the Year three years running, has a pursed-lip pout and spiky hair that have made him the darling of the fashionista set. He also may be one of the stupidest humans walking this planet.

When Derek is unseated as top male model by Hansel (Owen Wilson), and his roommates are killed in a freak accident (you can't light cigarettes around gasoline -- who knew?), Derek is thrown into an identity crisis. He decides to go back to his roots and accomplish something with meaning. (His attempt to join his father (Jon Voight) and brothers in the coal mines of South Jersey is a priceless 10 minutes of film.)

The fashion world, meanwhile, has a crisis of its own: the prime minister of Malaysia has begun a campaign against sweatshops. Quelle horreur! Who will stitch, embroider and bead for pennies a garment?

A panel of fashion gurus -- who bear shadowy resemblance to Karl Lagerfeld and Anna Wintour, among others -- decides the prime minister must be killed. But whom to entrust with this undertaking? Why, a brainwashed Mr. Zoolander, naturally.

Goofy as the plot is, Stiller's coup is bringing in real-life models and hangers-on to, essentially, play themselves. Part of the fun of Zoolander is to see how many of them you can spot.

There are designers themselves, including Tommy Hilfiger and Tom Ford. There are models, including Heidi Klum, Tyson Beckford and Claudia Schiffer. There are fringe players: Donald Trump, Paris Hilton, L'il Kim, Lance Bass. And I challenge you to spot Andy Dick, makeup artist Kevyn Aucoin and not one, but two, Spice Girls. Toss in David Bowie, and you have more jewels of the fashion world than the September issue of Vogue.

I can hear the clamoring now: "Stiller's making a movie about the top echelon of fashion? I simply must be in it!"

So Derek is brainwashed with the help of the evil Katinka (Milla Jovovich) and put under the control of dastardly designer Mugatu (Will Ferrell at his weird best). Only intrepid reporter Matilda Jeffries (Christine Taylor, a.k.a. Mrs. Ben Stiller) can put the puzzle together and halt the assassination.

Will Mugatu's plot triumph? Will fashion week be the scene of a political killing? Will Derek's brain ever spring into action? Will he ever unveil "Blue Steel," his years-in-the-making, highly anticipated new facial expression?

Ah, the questions of life are for us little people. How fortunate Stiller's made a hilariously ridiculous movie for us that answers them all.

[ by Jen Kopf ]
Rambles: 3 August 2002

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