What is it about monkeys that smug, sarcastic geeks like all of you (us) here at Hollywood Bitchslap and elsewhere on the Internet (and, presumably, in real life too) find so appealing? Is it that they symbolize some fundamental, cynic-proof notion of pure wackiness? Or just that they're really cute and have a bad, easy-target reputation for being the subject of suck-ass comedies like "Ed", The Ultimate Tool of Bad Movie-Referencing Critics? And for that matter, what's up with "Zoolander"? I mean, why's it all, like, funny and stuff? Yeah, okay, I like monkeys too. Especially when they hug people, or flail their long arms all around. But let me say some stuff about "Zoolander" firstThe latest from Ben Stiller, who in the span of less than four years has made turn of the century comedy cinema (not to mention his ubiquitous life on MTV) entirely his own, spanning from 1998’s surprisingly super-grossing classic There’s Something About Mary to 2000’s surprisingly super-grossing classic Meet the Parents, and is to today what Jim Carrey was to the mid-‘90s, what Steve Martin and Dan Aykroyd and all those guys were to the ‘80s, what Jeff Foxworthy never was to anybody or any time, is expectedly funny, although the stupidity of his larger-than-life main character, Derek Zoolander, dips into the bin of convention one too many times (Stiller and his staff milk all existing and long-since hackeneyed male model jokes for all they will ever be worth). Zoolander’s patented “look”, the Blue Steel, is pretty much just a fey pursing of the lips, cocking of the head, and squinting of the eyes, and that’s the point. Thinking back on the movie, I find it impressive how Stiller manages to incorporate the look into probably every single scene he’s in, especially when he tries to tack it on at the end of dialogue, when it’s totally inappropriate and unnecessary; the guy gives 100%, even if, admittedly, his use of a dorky voice is unforgivably Adam Sandler-esque. Zoolander isn’t the richest of the comic sources – his schtick is misunderstanding things (because he’s dumb), doing the fatuous look (because he’s vain) and speaking effeminately (because models, by their very job description, are bereft of masculinity); he’s no Kevin Kline or Steve Buscemi, let’s just say that. Or this: he’s a caricature, befitting of his skit-style characterization (it’s easy to imagine Zoolander as a recurring figure on “Saturday Night Live” or, pardon me while I shudder and try to keep from bleeding through my eyes, “MadTV”). This limits his potential, as well the freshness of a whole feature length story about him, but there’re plenty of pitch-perfect jokes, surprise cameos, and loopy tangents of pure madness (such as the sinister – and gay – Mugatu’s disturbing hypnosis technique) to make you happy. As Hansel, Zoolander’s “extreme sports”-themed modeling rival, who’s quite possibly even stupider than D.Z., Owen Wilson is surrealistically cool, skewing the delivery of his lines just right, not going too far or lacking in any sense. There’s something wonderfully unique about Owen Wilson that’s developed beyond his writing (try finding comedies more caustic, dramas less pat, movies with as enigmatic a tone, than his and Wes Anderson’s Rushmore and Bottle Rocket) and into his acting. In spite of it all, too, he’s just so damn lovable. His “hey, whatever, I’m easy” approach grants him lots and lots of added appeal. He may be a dick throughout most of Zoolander, but whenever he shows up next, there’s just a sense of relief that washes over you. Mad props to Wilson. Love interest Christine Taylor, as the only member of a cast so full it puts the phone book to shame who has no material to play with (in a way ironic, I suppose, that Stiller restrained his own wife but gave wackiness even to bit partners like David Bowie and Fabio), looks quite pretty all the time, and, for what it's worth, does a number of believable double-takes and "what the hell" faces in response to the mad, mad, mad, mad world around her. Will Ferrell, playing Mugatu with one of the most memorable wigs in recent history, overacts like Martin Short on crack, but unlike that scrawny little bitch, constantly and fully amuses with his now typical "clueless flamboyance" routine (see Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back and virtually every other role he's played in the last 4 years...all 700 billion of them). Cameos spring forth during the movie like machine gun fire, but few are anything beyond gimmicky. Billy Zane's was odd (but worth it, since I haven't seen him in any movie since Titanic (I do wish that weirdo Ed Wood silent movie co-starring Christina Ricci and a bunch of other cool people, the one that Entertainment Weekly gave an F, had been made available to me, though), and he's always been one of my favorites, ever since the ultimate triumph of filmmaking, otherwise known as Back to the Future, and not really an ultimate triumph of anything but without a doubt the best movie I’ll ever see, and fine, not really since Back to the Future, as I’m aware he had about as much of a role as the Doc’s in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, but at least he can tell people he was in the best movie Michael Browne will ever see, and what I meant to say was: ever since Silence of the Hams...shut up, it was funny!), and you’ve probably forgotten how I began this sentence, so I’ll restart: Billy Zane’s was odd because he just stands around for a while (he deliberately enters the background of a facial shot of Zoolander, and then proceeds to just stand there staring at something). Winona Ryder was as beautiful as when she was being courted by Edward Scissorhands and coping with the shame of Cher being her mom. You know, before she gave up. But she’s just a “spot the star”. Christian Slater, he needed more time to get a laugh. Like a lot of actors who get no respect these days (Tim Curry, Jeff Goldblum, Michael Keaton, Christopher Lloyd), he’s one who’ll always be underrated in my eyes, worthy of so much more than that which his chosen path has brought to him. Cuba Gooding Jr., talking about afros. Because he's black! Lance Bass is...wait, what the fuck? Lance fucking Bass? Eh, even though he’s the most overexposed (along with Ryan Philippe, maybe) of the worst thing that’s still happening to the reputation of pop music, aka *Nsync, I find him the least annoying. David Duchovny follows Will Ferrell's advice and just replays his trademark, namely the...yes yes, let's all sing it aloud...conspiracy theorist. Unfortunately for Mulder, who's a whiz at the deadpan, subtle comedy, I think his career is absolutely, 100% pigeonholed. In the 500 years since "The X-Files" made him a household name, he's still making fun of/thriving on the familiarity of his Fox Mulder persona. Now more than ever, in fact, considering his self-parodying final seasons on that show and how his part in Evolution was founded on all the same ideas. Kind of like, um...well, I can't remember the correlation I was gonna make, but it was good! Like Matt LeBlanc (my favorite “Friend”, by the way) playing the doofus/phony actor time after time, or, no, someone more popular than him. Whatever. Garry Shandling also shows up in a couple shots...I wonder if there's a connection there. Milla Jovovich plays it too straight: thick accent, check, but funny lines, nope, funny behavior, nope. Not that she failed; she had nothing to go on, except for an awkward lesbian implication at the end. Vince Vaughn has no lines, which is the case of other celebrities in Zoolander, but the difference is that Vaughn isn't just in one quick series of frames - he hangs out for a few entire scenes, just looking vaguely disgusted. It's for a reason, though, and it's sorta funny to think that Ben Stiller cast him like that on purpose, so he could just look spaced-out. Jon Voight gets the disapproving father subplot to use melodrama as his wackus operandi. He's fun, too. Steve Kmetko, congratulations, you're in another big Hollywood movie as yourself, doing your real, Hollywood-reporter job. Nancy O'Dell, take your seat. Andy Dick, not only looking and sounding like Chris Elliott anymore but actually mimicking the Cabin Boy’s career path, dresses up like a hideous freak (see this year’s Scary Movie 2). No lines for him, either; I guess it was funnier to just have him look like an ugly woman. Gwen Stefani, who I've always thought was destined for acting (such a pure face), is another line-less pop-up celeb, but she doesn't even get any special attention. She shares her few shots with one of the main actors, so it's pretty easy to not notice her. Still lovely. Um, let's see, is that all? Tons of real models, I think, but I don't recognize any of them, and models have never made for entertaining thespians, so who really cares. And Jerry Stiller, who's fine, because he's less abrasive than usual. I only wonder, where was Janeane Garofalo? Oh yeah, I forgot, she never does cameos. Except for the "never" part, when I actually meant to write "always forever". What happened?
"A Lot of Monkey Business, Sadly Without Any Actual Monkeys"
Stiller directs with a lot of flair and visual ingenuity, shows off his collection of well-known songs (that lovable "Wake Me up Before You Go-Go" gets played twice! To the history of pop culture, Wham! is officially no longer just the butt of a lame joke that Chandler once told on “Friends”), casts all his friends and family (except for, strangely - well, not really - anyone from his last directing effort, The Cable Guy), based everything on a TV-borne personality (this is so clearly one of those SNL character-based movies that I'm startled more of that cast wasn't around. C'mon, at LEAST Chris Kattan), and gets all meta/ironic on our asses with self-effacing statements like "Zoolander's looks are all the same!" that are followed by said speaker's conversion to the beauty of Zoolander's brand new expression, which is exactly the same, of course. It's a smart movie reveling in silliness involving midgets and Ben Stiller in blackface, smart in the sense that it uses a lot of "this guy is really stupid, huh?" jokes, and that it's all inside-Hollywood-we're-a bunch-of-pranksters. In other words, it's the usual postmodern comedy
Note: Ebert’s an idiot. As if my ire from him castigating both Charlie’s Angels and Josie and the Pussycats hadn’t yet been quelled (especially as I begin to recall his older spurnings of other Mike-supported winners like Can't Hardly Wait, The Big Hit, and The Wedding Singer), he goes on to curse Zoolander with one star, for reasons even worse: just because it uses an existing country as the villain, a choice he deems inappropriate in the wake of September 11th. Hey, Ebert? Everyone feels all passionate and somber about the World Trade Center, we’re all crusading for the greatness of America, whatever, how about not displacing (equivocal) blame on innocuous movies? Thanks. Sincerely, Everyone with a Prevalent Sense of Humor. Fucking dick
Final grade = BP.S. Forget the satire. Today’s fashion world is vapid and fake, cell phones are too small, we get it. The movie doesn’t have interesting points, mostly just the funnies. Go with it, or don't, but let's not get bogged down in theme or social relevance. And Ebert? Shut up. In conclusion: monkeys are the coolest animal on the planet. I think Ben Stiller's next comedy should involve a monkey, and not a CG-one or a midget in a costume. A real monkey. Maybe one of those smart ones, like Koko the Amazing Bonobo or something. "Zoolander" proves he's not exactly on his way UP the ladder of high quality comedy cinema, so he should at least treat us to some "Monkey's Uncle"-type misadventures if we're gonna keep putting up with his and Chris Kattan's and Mike Myers' and Adam Sandler's formulaic, one-dimensional character sketches
link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=5243&reviewer=232
originally posted: 10/28/01 20:06:50