Arts: Zoolander shakes up cinema

Given the tragic events of the past few weeks, moviegoers may be wary of a dramatic film that pulls at their heartstrings, fills them with sadness or caters to their fears. They will instead be looking for something completely ridiculous to set their minds at ease.

In steps Zoolander (VH1 Films), an off-the-wall comedy from Hollywood funnyman Ben Stiller.

The film – which Stiller co-wrote, co-produced, directed and stars in – follows the adventures of Derek Zoolander, the world’s most famous male model. Zoolander, who makes up for lack of brains with his perfect looks, is living a life of high fashion until he loses the “Male Model of the Year” award to newcomer Hansel (Owen Wilson).

After this downfall, Zoolander goes soul searching to try to discover his calling in life. As he says, “I think there’s something more to life than being really, really unbelievably beautiful.”

His journey leads him home to his father (Jon Voight), a gruff coal miner who disowns his child scoffing at his outrageous lifestyle. Zoolander returns to New York determined to get his career back on track.

“Saturday Night Live” star Will Ferrell plays eccentric fashion designer Jacobim Mugatu, whose financial future is in jeopardy due to action against sweatshop laborers by the newly-elected Malaysian prime minister. Mugatu unleashes a plan to brainwash the absent-minded Zoolander into assassinating the prime minister during a fashion show displaying his new line of clothing called “Derelict” – fashion based on what the homeless wear.

As if the plot were not silly enough, Stiller adds to the absurdity by cleverly skewering Hollywood fashion and America’s obsession with it. The fashion world in which the characters live is beyond comprehension, and the ads parodied in the film are dead-on. No magazine or television spot is safe from being ridiculed, and the media’s obsession with celebrity fashion is the obvious target.

Adding to the irrationality of the film is the endless barrage of cameo spots in the film. Many actors play themselves in the film, including Winona Rider, Cuba Gooding Jr. and even Fabio. Music stars such as Lenny Kravitz, David Bowie and ’NSync’s Lance Bass also take part in the joke.

Other smaller roles come from well-known screen personas. Andy Dick pops as a masseuse in an evil day spa, Milla Jovovich plays Mugatu’s evil henchwoman Katinka and David Duchovny is hilarious as a famous hand-model who informs Zoolander of the deadly consequences of male modeling.

The film’s funniest moments come when Wilson and Stiller share the screen. Both actors deliver in their roles. The intense “Walk-Off” runway battle is one of Stiller’s finest moments. Another scene in which Wilson and Stiller attempt to work a computer – something the unskilled models have never experienced – is laugh-out-loud funny.

Ferrell is his usual insane self in the film, making viewers cringe and laugh at the same time. Stiller’s father and fellow actor Jerry Stiller plays his role as Zoolander’s manager much like his finely crafted portrayal of Frank Constanza on TV’s “Seinfeld.”

The weakest performance comes from Christine Taylor, who plays a Times magazine reporter who becomes his closest aid and love interest. Her character, lacking skillful acting or much humor, comes across as mere eye-candy.

Zoolander is far from spectacular, but it has more than enough off-the-wall silliness to give American audiences something they so sorely need: a good laugh.

Zoolander is in theaters Friday

The Hatchet has disabled comments on our website. Learn more.