Movie Review: ZOOLANDER (2001) Directed by Ben Stiller

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Movie Reviews

Directed by Ben Stiller
Starring: Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson, Christine Taylor, Jerry Stiller, Will Ferrell, Milla Jovovich, Jon Voight, David Duchovny
Review by Trish Koutrodimos


A moronic male model is brainwashed to kill the Malaysian Prime Minister for outlawing the slave labor that the fashion industry is built on.


If the Prime Minister of Malaysia wants to stop slave labor and so the fashion industry’s clothes production, what’s a fashionista to do? Well, an international syndicate of fashion designers believes bumping off the old party-pooper’d do it. They force Jacobim Mugatu (Ferrell), a major designer himself, to find a vacuous mind to brainwash to do the job. But where, Mugatu cries, can he find someone that “beef-headed”?!

“Over the past decade male-modeling has had a shadow cast over it by one man and five syllables … Derek Zoolander”. Creator of Blue Steal, Ferrari and a range of other “looks” that all curiously look the same, Derek (Stiller) is a single-brain-celled soul who can’t turn left to save his life. Having won the Best Male Model Award three years in a row, Derek’s convinced he’s got this year’s in the bag. So convinced that when young upcoming model, Hansel’s (Wilson), name is called, Derek walks onto the stage to accept the award. Halfway into his acceptance speech, the announcer whispers the obvious to Derek and, ashamed, Derek flees the awards night. In the crowd Mugatu however is satisfied that he’s found his vacuous mind.

The next day in his apartment, which he shares with three other vacuous male model friends, Derek tries to explain to them that “maybe there [is] more to life than being really, really, really ridiculously good looking … Maybe we should be doing something more meaningful with our lives. Like helping people”. The models don’t get it but take Derek out for a pick-me-up orange mocha frappuccino. The joyful boys stop at a petrol station where they have a water fight. Water turns to petrol and petrol soon turns to fire when one of the models lights a cigarette. Derek, having moved away from the boys to read a mocking magazine article about himself, written by Matilda Jeffries, looks up and horribly watches his friends perish in the explosion. At their funeral, Derek announces his retirement from modeling.

He flees to his hometown to become a coal-miner with his father and brothers. But, wilting preciously after one day and embarrassing his father, Derek drags himself back to the city where, surprisingly, for the first time, Mugatu wishes to hire him for his Derelicte campaign. Mugatu’s butch fashionista right-hand, Katinka, takes Derek to a “day spa”. Meanwhile, journalist Matilda tries to dig-up dirt on Mugatu but can’t find anything on him before 1995. A mysterious phone call tips her off about Derek’s “day spa”. The “day spa” has quotation marks because it’s actually a secret hideout where Mugatu brainwashes Derek, using the Frankie Goes to Hollywood song, Relax, to kill the Malaysian Prime Minister. Matilda tries to break in but Katinka kicks her out. Digging up more dirt, Matilda finds case files of several of Mugatu’s models who died young in freak accidents – in every crime scene photo, Katinka is present. Derek’s next!

At a swanky club, swarming with the likes of Paris Hilton, Billy Zane and Winona Ryder, Derek is hanging out. However, when Hansel busts in as the hot new thing fur starts to fly and, as events usually unfold, they end up in an old warehouse having a walk-off (see Starsky and Hutch review where Stiller has a dance-off but this time, Wilson is on his side). A walk-off is where a competitor does a funky move and the other must copy and add to it. Whoever can’t copy loses. With David Bowie as referee, Derek and Hansel battle it out – doing the robot, hand stands, flips off the wall – but it all culminates in one act: Hansel puts one hand down his skin-tight pants, jiggles it around a bit, and magically pulls out his underwear! The crowd turns to Derek … Mike Tyson warns him not to, but Derek stands and his hand goes down … Yanking up his underwear, Derek gives himself the biggest front-wedgie the fashion world has ever seen! Losing, he’s driven home by Matilda who was swept up in the crowd on the way over. On the way, her phone rings and the same mysterious voice tells her to go to the cemetery.

At the cemetery, Matilda and Derek walk past the graves of countless male models who have all died tragically young. The mysterious caller unveils himself – a scruffy bum with a cryogenic capsule around one hand. He tells them that the fashion industry has been behind every political assassination in the last 200 years – for example Abe Lincoln was assassinated for abolishing slaves because they made the fashion industry’s wigs and stockings. All the assassins were male models – they’re in peak physical condition, can gain entry into secure places, and most importantly of all, do as they’re told. Mugatu, a long time ago, sold his soul to a syndicate of fashion designers to make him a famous designer. Now they’re enlisting him to kill the Malaysian Prime Minster – by using Derek! But how does this scruffy man know this? Derek looks at his hand – he’s J.P. Prewitt, the world’s greatest hand model. He escaped being an assassin. Prewitt warns him that he’ll be triggered to kill using an audio device and advises them to unearth Mugatu’s incriminating files. Under a hail of bullets, Derek and Matilda flee the cemetery.

Derek needs to hide where no one will think to find him – Hansel’s! At the door of Hansel’s exotic crib, Matilda explains the crisis but Hansel wants to straighten some stuff out first. Hesitantly, Derek admits that he’s threatened by Hansel’s blossoming career as his own is winding down. Hansel admits that he’s intimidated by Derek’s shadow – Derek actually inspired him to become a model (“I freakin’ worship you, man!”). They appologise and become friends. Inside, the three of them sit on cushions under an Indian style canopy and drink some exotic tea. Relaxed, Matilda admits her disdain for models – as a child, she was a fat kid and models made her loathe her body. So, she became bulimic. Derek and Hansel insensitively laugh this off – they throw up all the time to lose weight! It’s great! Matilda affirms it’s a disease. Leaving the subject, she admits her lack of a sex life. Under the power of the tea, she, Derek and Hansel along with a strange tattooed man, Finnish dwarfs and a Maori tribesman enjoy a sensual orgy. The next morning, in the kitchen, Derek confesses to Hansel that he’s falling in love with Matilda. Matilda enters and urges them to go get the files before the Derelicte fashion show tonight. The Malaysian Prime Minister is going to be the guest of honour and Derek is going to kill him.

Derek and Hansel, in janitor disguises, sneak into the office. Matilda has told them that the files are “in the computer”. The men look at the computer dumbfounded. Derek has to leave to get ready for the show and Hansel wishes him luck. Back at her office, Matilda discovers Mugatu’s previous identity – Jacob Moogberg, the original synth player for the band, Frankie Goes to Hollywood. It clicks – Derek’s trigger is Relax! She rushes to the show to warn him but Derek’s already on stage and the Malaysian Prime Minister is sat right in front of it. Relax plays and Derek spirals out of control, into a crazy ninja, cart-wheeling towards the Prime Minister. However, Hansel breaks into the DJ’s room and break-dance fights the DJ. The song switches on and off as Hansel and then the DJ each get the upper hand. Finally, the DJ knocks Hansel to the ground and turns on the song. Derek flips over the Prime Minister’s head and positions his hands to snap the Malaysian’s neck. Reaching, Hansel pulls the plug and kills the music. Hansel, over the speaker, announces that Mugatu brainwashed Derek and that he has the files to prove it. He holds up the computer console and smashes it to the ground. “Where’d all the files go?” he asks. Mugatu, thinking he’s won, is mistaken when Derek’s once unfaithful manager comes clean and reveals his own back-up files. Mugatu snaps – he’s always hated Derek because he hasn’t earned his fame – he’s only got one look! Mugatu pulls out a dart and throws it at the Malaysian Prime Minster. “One look?” Derek grunts. “One look!”. He turns left and steps infront of the Prime Minster and unleashes the awaited new look … Magnum! A blue glow radiates from Derek and the dart falls, like the watching crowd, in awe of it. “It’s beautiful”, Mugatu whispers as he’s tackled to the ground. Celebrating, Matilda comes up to Derek who smooches her!

A year later, Derek opens the Derek Zoolander Center for Kids Who Can’t Read Good … And Who Want to Learn to Do Other Stuff Good Too which teaches kids how to be a professional model and a “professional human being”. There, Derek and Hansel are both teachers and Matilda meets Derek outside with their new baby boy. The baby strikes it’s first look and Derek is finally certain that there really is more to life than being really, really, really ridiculously good looking.

Zoolander is classic. Every little part of this movie – from the real-life celebrities hanging with Derek, to the eccentric costuming and set-design, to the expertly written and acted characters – is totally absorbed in the male modeling world and produces a compelling satire of the fashion industry. When this movie had first come out a guy said to me – “It’s hilarious. They’ve got these two unattractive guys playing male models” and it’s true. I mean, Wilson is pretty spunky, but not classic male model material – and Stiller’s average at best. But it works. These two men are funny enough that it works. The humour is unique – combining stupid humour (i.e. Derek’s dialogue: “How many Abidigitals do you see modeling?”) with clever and compelling plot and characters. The characters themselves are vast and hilarious – Mugatu, the egotistical hotheaded designer (to a model he’s dressing: “Oh, I’m sorry? Did my pin get in the way of your ass? … lose five pounds immediately!”) to the prostate-enlarged womaniser that’s Derek’s manager (“Look out! Tooshie squeeze!”) to the gorgeous yet idiotic Hansel (on Sting being his hero: “The music he’s created over the years – I don’t really listen to it, but the fact that’s making it, I respect that”). The way that the film’s shot, the vivid colour composition and funky soundtrack – every element of this movie is very high level entertainment. Watch it. A classic scene which must be mentioned is when Mugatu shows Derek a model of what the Derek Zoolander Center for Kids Who Can’t Read Good would look like. Derek immediately throws it to the ground. He looks up, scandalised, at Mugatu and proclaims, “What is this? A centre for ants? How can we be expected to teach children to learn how to read if they can’t even fit inside the building?”. Classic. Oh, and “Hansel. So hot right now”.


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Film and Writing Festival for Comedy. Showcasing best of comedy short films at the FEEDBACK Film Festival. Plus, showcasing best of comedy novels, short stories, poems, screenplays (TV, short, feature) at the festival performed by professional actors.


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