Monday Morning Critic – Zoolander 2 And The Career Desperation of Ben Stiller

MMC New>

It’s hard to think of how Zoolander merited a sequel, especially considering the original wasn’t a massive hit when it was released in 2001. It was profitable, of course, but it wasn’t a runaway hit. And 15 years later, as both Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson wind down their careers as box office attractions, Zoolander 2 has hit the box office and had a fairly successful weekend despite near universal distaste. But it was out-shined by the two other big releases of the week, both R-rated releases mind you, and a PG-13 comedy losing at the box office to two R-rated releases tells us a lot.

With a $50 million budget and an opening weekend well under half that it’ll be a rough time for this to hit profitability; comedies on the whole make far less overseas (the great equalizer) than they do domestically and North American box office numbers matter significantly for a comedy. A bad word of mouth, lots of bad reviews and an audience that has changed radically in the nearly 20 years since the original came out have left it one of those odd choices for a release. When the trailer hit it felt off because Zoolander and its cultural relevancy stopped being a thing a long time ago.

I watched it in a full theater … and it was odd watching a comedy where no one in the audience laughed. Even comedies I’ve wanted to slit my wrists while watching have had big guffaws from audiences en masse … and this one was a lot of people looking around going “we waited 15 years for this?” And it got me thinking. Zoolander 2 feels like a desperate move from desperate people trying to cling on to the last vestiges of fame.

Look at what’s happened to Stiller ever since that film. He’s had a run of being one of the best leading men in comedy for nearly 20 years and lately has been finding that his dramatic work is much better than his comedic work. It hasn’t been nearly as successful, and his version of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty stands as his best film of the past decade by far. Stiller’s career as of late has been a number of good to great indie films, showcasing his dramatic work, while most of his comedic work has been lackluster. The trajectory of his career seems to be pointing towards trying his hand there, where he’s had a lot of success as of late, and yet here he is trying to make one more go round as the male model de jour.

His last great comedy was Tropic Thunder, probably, and if now is the time for Stiller to try to make a run as a serious actor it’s now. The last well to drain was playing Derek Zoolander again, as a sequel for it was like a sequel to Anchorman: always bandied about because of how much more famous everyone became after it. In reality Zoolander 2 was like a sequel to Talladega Nights: a sign that it’s been mined dry.

Scott “Kubryk” Sawitz brings his trademarked irreverence and offensive hilarity to Twitter in 140 characters or less. Follow him @ScottSawitz .

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