'Zoolander': THR's 2001 Review

Ben Stiller in 2001's 'Zoolander'
'Zoolander' might have the right stuff to become a breakout hit.

On September 28, 2001, what could have been a forgettable comedy became a pop-culture staple, when Ben Stiller's Zoolander hit theaters. The Hollywood Reporter's original review is below: 

Ben Stiller's Zoolander evaporates so swiftly that by the time moviegoers hit the sidewalk, they might have forgotten what they saw. But during its fleeting moments onscreen, the movie's lighthearted spirit and comic energy make for entertaining, escapist fare. The target of this spoof is ostensibly the New York fashion industry and, specifically, the world of male supermodels. But Stiller — who stars, directs, co-writes and co-produces — expands the target to rope in all the young narcissists who believe there is little to life other than "being really, really good-looking."

Zoolander might have the right stuff to become a breakout hit. It's smoothly packaged fluff with a silly story line, wacky characters and not a mean spirit anywhere. It will mainly draw on young people for an audience as few over 30 are likely to be interested.

Stiller's Derek Zoolander is a cross between Gracie Allen and Wayne of Wayne's World. A model who has focused almost exclusively on his looks and his "look," Zoolander possesses a developmental age of about 8. If you called him superficial, he would undoubtedly take that as a compliment. Any description containing the word "super" would flatter him.

For Zoolander, Stiller has created an accent that sounds so airless and precious that he couldn't possibly have come from anywhere other than a changing room. His black hair shoots straight up into a dark helmet. The tight, black snakeskin suits and collar shirts already feel dated.

Zoolander's failure to win the Male Model of the Year award for the fourth straight year rocks his world. This inspires a sudden desire to seek greater meaning in life. In one very funny sequence, he returns to his roots, a southern New Jersey coal mining family where dad (Jon Voight) and his brothers are shamed by his success in a sissy profession.

This rejection prompts an immediate return to Manhattan, where he become unwittingly embroiled in a plot to assassinate an Asian leader determined to ban child labor in his country's clothing industry — a subplot Stiller probably now regrets -- and a modeling "walk-off" against his archrival, the grunge-influenced model Hansel (Owen Wilson).

Zoolander's manager (Jerry Stiller) describes his client as a "sweet simpleton," and poor Hansel isn't even that smart. So much of the film's humor derives from a Dumb & Dumber routine where colossal misunderstandings and clueless behavior by two innocent idiots throw roadblocks into everyone's schemes.

Christine Taylor has a large yet largely extraneous role as a journalist who covers the fashion industry. Will Ferrell brings his own brand of extravagant comedy to an evil, platinum-haired designer assisted by Milla Jovovich's black-clad villainess with high-fashion hauteur.

The soundtrack is chockablock with old pop songs that offer sly commentary on the inane action, while Robin Standefer's sets and David C. Robinson's costumes keep the movie jumping from one visual gag to the next.

The film feels like one of those Saturday Night Live skits that really gets cooking as regulars and guest stars all contribute. Among the personalities putting in cameo appearances are David Bowie, Cuba Gooding Jr., Donald Trump, Tommy Hilfiger and Fabio.

But the movie never rises above the level of a clever TV skit. Repetition is the name of the game here, so gags become increasingly predictable. The film also mixes low-grade gags with weirdly hip and even witty ones. Writers Stiller, Drake Sather and John Hamburg seem unable or unwilling to distinguish among them. Everything is fair game.

Stiller performs a good balancing act not only with his many jobs on this movie but also in keeping the big picture firmly in mind. It's not always easy to be both silly and smart, but Stiller for the most part pulls it off. — Kirk Honeycutt, originally published on Sept. 28, 2001.