Monday 25 December 2017

Movie Review: Zoolander (2001)

A sharp no holds barred satire of the fashion world, Zoolander is a wild ride through a haughty industry.

When Malaysia's newly elected President promises reforms to end cheap child labour in the garment industry, the evil barons of the fashion world are sent into a panic. Top designer Mugatu (Will Ferrell) is tasked with plotting an assassination of the President. He identifies none-too-bright top fashion model Derek Zoolander (Ben Stiller), who works for a model agency run by Maury Ballstein (Jerry Stiller), as the perfect sap to be unwittingly recruited as an assassin.

Unfortunately, Zoolander, despite his famous Blue Steel "look" and miniature cell phone, is plunged into a personal crisis of confidence when reporter Matilda (Christine Taylor) publishes an unflattering profile in Time magazine and then he loses his model-of-the-year crown to the much-too-cool Hansel (Owen Wilson). This does not stop Mugatu and his top henchwoman Katinka Ingabogovinanana (Milla Jovovich) from launching their plan to brainwash Zoolander and turn him into a martial arts assassin to the tune of Relax by Frankie Goes To Hollywood.

Co-written and directed by Ben Stiller, Zoolander is successful at drawing good and sustained laughs out of abject stupidity. Stiller sharpens his knives and does not try to be respectful. This is an all out assault on stupid models, corrupt business owners, and laughable designers, and the film mercilessly pokes away at the parties, the prancing, and the attitudes. The only rational character in the entire movie is the reporter Matilda, and she acts as the outside observer lifting the lid on the vacuous, corrupt and exploitive underpinnings of the industry.

The highlights are many. Zoolander and Hansel engage in a walk-off duel, a melange of boxing bout and showdown at high noon judged by none other than David Bowie. The brainwashing scene featuring psychedelic Mugatu images is a classic riff on The Manchurian Candidate. And the conspiratorial contribution of hand model Prewett (David Duchovny) gives the assassination plot and the broader fictional history of the fashion industry's involvement in high profile deaths pop culture legitimacy. Stiller even finds time within the 89 minutes of running length for a "going home" sojourn to the "coal mines of New Jersey", where Stiller reconnects with his roots including dad Larry (Jon Voight).

Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson and Will Ferrell find the perfect material to complement their madcap brand of improvisation-rich comedy, and they all deliver. Stiller infuses enough naive self-doubt into the Zoolander character to make him an appealing central figure, while Hansel's effortless ability to exude chill domination is flawlessly matched to Wilson's persona.

Ferrell is liberated by wild makeup and lets loose as the out-there designer Mugatu. His launch of the homeless-inspired Derelicte line is not only a sharp jab at the fashion world's lack of ethics, but also sadly inspired by a real campaign. Zoolander spots the weaknesses in its target trade, and attacks with ferocity and a devious smile.

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