Movie Review ~ Zoolander 2

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The Facts
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Synopsis: Derek and Hansel are modelling again when an opposing company attempts to take them out from the business.

Stars: Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson, Penelope Cruz, Will Ferrell, Kristen Wiig, Billy Zane, Fred Armisen, Christine Taylor, Cyrus Arnold, Justin Bieber, Kyle Mooney

Director: Ben Stiller

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 102 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (4.5/10)

Review:  I guess I just need to start this review by owning up to the hard truth that before doing my homework for Zoolander 2 by re-watching the original, I’d only seen Zoolander once, back on the day it opened three weeks after September 11 in 2001.  Arriving at time when audiences needed a brainless piece of fluff to distract them for a minor amount of time, the comedy was 89 minutes of funny, if perplexing, moments.  For each solid laugh there were a dozen groans and while it did a fair job skewering the easy target of male models and fashionistas, it never left a lasting impression on me.  In the years since it’s evolved into a bit of a cult hit (it did better business on video than it did in theaters), but I never felt the need to revisit it until the sequel came creaking along.

Now, no one is going to accuse director/writer/star Ben Stiller (The Secret Life of Walter Mitty) of missing the boat on cashing in on a sequel to a popular title from his canon.  With Meet the Parents, Madagascar, and Night of the Museum now trilogies, Stiller likely was running through his IMDb page and landed on Zoolander as the target of his next trip to the Stiller well (we should be thankful he didn’t set his sights on Starsky & Hutch or Dodgeball…oh wait, a sequel to Dodgeball is already in development).

A whopping 15 years after the original was released, Zoolander 2 is ready to strut its stuff on a catwalk near you and while overall it’s better made than its predecessor, it suffers from the same chronic forgetability.  Though Stiller and co-star Owen Wilson (Inherent Vice) look remarkably, um, “refreshed”, the jokes and comic foibles of the two dunderhead models start to feel musty halfway through the smorgasbord of cameo appearances and off-the-wall tangents.

A freak accident a decade ago sent former male model Derek Zoolander (Stiller) into exile in Northern New Jersey and split his family apart.  When he’s called out of retirement by Billy Zane bearing an invitation to model in Italy, Derek agrees as a way to show he can be a fit parent and provide for his son.  Meanwhile, Hansel (Wilson) has been hiding out in Malibu, ashamed of a disfigurement that ended his career.  He’s also visited by Zane with the same offer of redemption and in an attempt to find out who he really is, agrees to put his shallow pride to the side and take to the runway.  Soon after their arrival, Derek and Hansel are in the middle of a conspiracy within the fashion world involving a legend that’s part The Da Vinci Code and part acid trip which threatens to end their careers (and lives) for good.

Upping the ante from the original film, the cameos that Stiller has secured are plentiful.  Running the gamut from Susan Boyle to Anna Wintour, Stiller isn’t messing around when it comes to stacking the deck with famous faces even though it’s clear many of them filmed in front of a blue screen and were digitally input into the scenes.  Without question, the majority of the fun derived from revisiting Stiller’s brainless model is picking out the stars that pass through the frame.  And the film earned a full two stars from me in its opening moments when it blessedly offs an annoying pop star that definitely had it coming.

That’s not to say the film doesn’t have its moments, because it does have some sequences that are so absurd you can’t help but laugh at the insanity of it all.  To their credit, Stiller and fellow screenwriters Justin Theroux, Nicholas Stoller, and John Hamburg insert joke upon joke upon joke so if four are duds there’s sure to be one solid laugh coming right on their heels.  The film gets its best results with Will Ferrell (Daddy’s Home) reprising his role as a megalomaniac designer and Kristen Wiig (The Martian) made up to the high heavens as a European fashion maven modeled after Donatella Verasce.  When Ferrell and Wiig are involved, you just have to let the camera roll and they’ll do the work for you.  The biggest surprise of the film is how high Penelope Cruz flies.  The Oscar winner hasn’t been this free for years and she seems to relish the opportunity to play with broad strokes.

Yet overall the film feels as hollow as the fashion world itself.  It’s all fun on the surface and in the moment but it leaves no lasting impression on the viewer.  I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have an overall positive reaction during the screening, I laughed at the most absurd passages (be prepared to let Fred Armisen haunt your dreams as a…well…I shan’t spoil the remarkable vision for you) and enjoyed myself sporadically, but upon reflection it’s simply a well packaged bag of potato chips…more stale air than actual food.

Movie Review ~ Deadpool

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The Facts
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Synopsis: A former Special Forces operative turned mercenary is subjected to a rogue experiment that leaves him with accelerated healing powers, adopting the alter ego Deadpool.

Stars: Ryan Reynolds, Morena Baccarin, T.J. Miller, Gina Carano, Ed Skrein, Brianna Hildebrand

Director: Tim Miller

Rated: R

Running Length: 108 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review:  The first time I was supposed to see Deadpool, I sat in the theater for close to an hour while the projectionist and theater manager tried desperately to get the movie to  play.  We had just come in from the cold, the theater was hot, and the audience grew more restless as the minutes ticked away.  In the end, the technical difficulties sent us back into the chill and I had to wonder if a movie that relied so much on its smart-alecky marketing had pulled the ultimate prank on critics by getting us all ready to go and then leaving us hanging.

At the follow-up screening several days later I was just ready to get it over with.  Growing wearier with each passing comic book turned movie and already feeling strained with months of campaigns featuring Marvel’s wise-ass anti-hero lampooning itself and other similarly themed films, it was finally time for the long in the planning franchise starter to put up or shut up.  And put up it did, emerging as the first shamelessly entertaining movie of the new year.

First introduced awkwardly in the unkempt X-Men Origins: Wolverine, there was a hint in the final moments of a Deadpool spinoff that wound up bumped to the back burner when X-Men Origins: Wolverine tanked with audiences and critics (for the record, I didn’t mind it much).  While 20th Century Fox licked its wounds and threw money at a new path for the X-Men, memories of the Deadpool character started to become a distant memory.  With the rise in popularity of cross-over pictures in The Avengers franchise and soon with Batman/Superman, Fox looked for ways to cross-pollinate their own Marvel niche to co-exist with the X-Men and headline their own movie.  Finally… Deadpool was back in business.

Returning as Wade Wilson/Deadpool is Ryan Reynolds (Woman in Gold), an actor I’ve long since learned to expect little from. His sardonic flair mixed with frat boy good looks only took him so far on my popularity meter…so I wasn’t prepared for how perfect he meshes with the overall style and tone of the film.  Finally, he’s able to capitalize on his sharp snap and make it an actual benefit to a movie, rather than a detraction from the overall impact.

Opening with a ballsy title sequence that lets you know right away egos are being checked at the door, we meet up with an action sequence already in progress.  Bloody, violent, vulgar, and go-for-broke, the film starts out firing on all cylinders and manages to keep up that momentum throughout the remaining 105 minutes.  Flashing back to a time when Deadpool was just ordinary, cancer-striken, tough as nails yet romantic softie Wade Wilson, we gradually see how Wade’s desperate attempt to prolong his life backfires and leaves him with the power of regeneration but looking like a thumb pruned from too much time in the ocean.

Vowing revenge on the man that made him (Ed Skrein, The Transporter Refueled), Deadpool slices his way through a host of bad guys and girls (including Gina Carano, Haywire, as a powerful henchwoman) while trying to reconnect with his girlfriend (Morena Baccarin, Spy, a zinger of a match for Reynolds) and staving off the requests to join Professor Xavier’s elite X-Men.

I love a film that has a little spring in its step and wink in its eye and Deadpool hits the target squarely, never taking itself too seriously yet not becoming an outright spoof of itself.  Like it’s star/lead character, no entendre is left un-doubled and no fourth wall remains unbroken.  There’s references to other X-Men and the actors that play them, a dig at Reynolds stint as People’s Sexiest Man Alive (and recently named Sexiest Dad Alive!), and more profanity gore, and nudity (yep, that’s Reynolds going the full monty) than you’d ever find in the PG-13 recent big budget tentpole films,

Usually I’d be nervous with a first time director and screenwriters with a spotty track record but Tim Miller brings his history as visual artist and blends it nicely with Zombieland’s Paul Wernick and Rhett Reese’s cheeky tale.  Sure, some stuff doesn’t work like T.J. Miller’s (Transformers: Age of Extinction) deadpan comic second banana that feels extraneous when Reynolds already is more than pulling his weight in that department.  I’d also like to have seen more with Deadpool’s grumpy geriatric blind roommate played by Leslie Uggams but there’s only so much you can pack into a respectable running time.

As always make sure to stay until the end of the credits …and if you do you’ll have one upped me because preview audiences only saw one of two post-credit sequences.  Usually I’d wait to catch what I missed when it arrives on video but Reynolds is so in his element and the film so consistently entertaining that I’m already considering a return visit.

*A final note…parents, please for the love of Stan Lee do not take your kids to this. It’s rated R for a reason, make this the film your kids can look forward to watching when they reach the right age.  This is most definitely not for youngsters.