Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share on Google+ Share on Reddit Share on Pinterest Share on Linkedin Share on Tumblr Is nostalgia alone reason enough to go see a belated and unnecessary sequel? Fifteen years have passed since we last saw the “really, really ridiculously good-looking” Derek Zoolander (Ben Stiller) and Hansel (Owen Wilson) fashionably fighting shadowy global conspiracies. It was a different era. Released in late September 2001, Zoolander’s filmmakers had to scramble at the 11th hour to digitally delete the twin towers from the film’s New York skyline. When Zoolander first hit theaters, Justin Bieber (who is the first in a litany of the sequel’s celebrity cameos) was seven years old. Terms like “body-shaming,” “the 1%” and “hipster” were not part of our lexicon. Smartphones were unfathomable, social media barely existed and few of us even used Google (“or did you think I was too stupid to know what a eugoogooly was?”). Even a pitch-perfect revisiting of Zoolander’s absurdity would only have a long shot at striking a chord in today’s far different climate. But nothing about Zoolander’s comeback feels like it’s derived from the same place as the original. The merriment and snappy banter is gone, replaced by a sense of obligation to the Zoolander formula while trotting out celebrity after celebrity to distract from the dearth of actual comedy. At the crux of the first film’s success was the presence of reporter Matilda Jeffries (Christine Taylor). Matilda played it straight, her journalistic sensibilities acting as a foil to Derek and Hansel’s zany antics. That she was won over by Derek’s bumbling charm (and the strength of Hansel’s soil-room tea) allowed the viewer to develop that much more affection for the ridiculously good-looking dopes. But Matilda is out of the picture for almost the entirety of the sequel thanks to a freak collapse of the Derek Zoolander Center for Kids Who Can’t Read Good and Who Wanna Learn to Do Other Stuff Good Too. In her place is a listless Penélope Cruz as an investigator from Interpol’s global fashion division. She treats Derek and Hansel like experts in the field, worthy of reverence. Without anyone to ground the zaniness, Zoolander 2 exists in its own fabricated world rather than acting as a satirical spin on the more absurd elements of our own. The plot is almost entirely beside the point. Derek and Hansel are estranged due the collapse of their reading center, which left Hansel with a slight facial imperfection. Derek has lost his son, Derek Jr. (Mason Webb), when child services declared him unfit to be a parent because he didn’t know how to boil spaghetti. He’s retreated from the public eye, as has Hansel, who now lives with a bizarre group of diverse sex partners (led by an impregnated Kiefer Sutherland) whom he refers to collectively as Orgy. When Valentina (Cruz) calls upon them to help track down whoever is assassinating the world’s most beautiful celebrities, we get a family side plot involving Derek reuniting with his unexpectedly husky son, who wants nothing to do with him because he’s a terrible father. Hilarious, right? For its first half, the film suffers from a lack of fashion mogul Mugatu, one of the greatest comedic assets to the first installment. When Will Ferrell finally shows up, locked away in a remote fashion police dungeon, Zoolander 2 reaches “Looney Tunes” levels of cartoonishness. Also sorely missing is model agent Maury Ballstein, which isn’t all that surprising considering Jerry Stiller is almost 90—but the Balls Models proprietor is another (relatively) grounded character whose absence untethers Zoolander 2. We get a few decent new characters: “SNL” cast member Kyle Mooney excels as the hip new designer Don Atari, and Benedict Cumberbatch is memorable as the androgynous new supermodel simply named All (though Derek and Hansel’s obsession with the status of All’s genitalia also feels dated). The other notable addition is Kristen Wiig, caked in prosthetics and makeup, who grows tiresome quickly by doing little more than mispronouncing words as a quasi-Donatella Versace character. Stiller and co-writer Justin Theroux—who appears in the film looking more like Justin Theroux in an Evil DJ costume rather than as an actual reprise of his Evil DJ role—have apparently forgotten how to write jokes. At the screening I attended, the theater was deathly silent during stretches where the attempts at humor relied on zingers over physical comedy. Apparently, confusing a thesaurus with a Tyrannosaurus doesn’t have the same comedic mileage it would have in 2001, and Derek saying “KKK” instead of “aka” seems cheap. Worst of all, neither Stiller nor Wilson approach their roles with the same gusto, and they lack the effortless back-and-forth they once had. Ben Stiller, who appears to be entering the artless, cash-grabbing phase of his career, has not only gone back to the Zoolander well, but he is also linked to announced sequels for Dodgeball and Space Jam. Never shy to do a sequel, he’s revisited nights at museums and met all the parents, which I suppose makes sense given his more original characters such as Walter Mitty haven’t left much of a mark. Here’s to hoping we don’t see a lazy addendum to Tropic Thunder or The Cable Guy. Nostalgia junkies will probably still get a fix, but this pointless sequel proves that Zoolander and Hansel aren’t so hot right now.