Is "Zoolander 2" one "Zoolander" too many? The answer, unfortunately, is yes more than no.
On the plus side, it's pleasant to get reacquainted with "vain, stupid, incredibly self-centered" male model extraordinaire Derek Zoolander, the man who parlayed a look he called Blue Steel into a position at the epicenter of the fashion world.
Ben Stiller (who also directed and co-wrote the script with Justin Theroux, John Hamburg and Nicholas Stoller) returns as the modeling icon, a bear of very little brain who calls a youngster with a large vocabulary "a walking Tyrannosaurus." When someone says, more in awe than anything else, "You really are an idiot, aren't you," Derek Zoolander does not object.
Even though Owen Wilson (as archrival/best friend Hansel) and Will Ferrell (as fashion criminal Mugatu) return from the 2001 original, the magic does not return with them.
With a convoluted, over-plotted story line and unsteady supporting characters (not to mention cameos by such diverse people as Willie Nelson, Sting, astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson and fashion potentate Anna Wintour), this new hit-and-miss "Zoolander" is unlikely to become the cult favorite its delirious predecessor was.
A lot has happened to Derek and Hansel in the 15 years since they were last seen, including having to cope with the tragedy that brought both men low: the collapse of the building that housed the Derek Zoolander Center for Kids Who Can't Read Good. It turns out the book-shaped structure was actually built out of kids' stuff, Popsicle sticks and glue, not the most durable of materials.
Derek's wife was killed in the collapse, and in the chaos of the ensuing months, their son, Derek Jr., was taken away by the state. Distraught at the multiple calamities, Zoolander became, in his own words, "a hermit crab," retreating to a cabin in "extreme north northern New Jersey," where he grew a kung fu sage kind of beard streaked with dramatic white.
As for Hansel, burdened by what he considers to be a severe facial injury, he retreats to the desert-like wilds of "uncharted Malibu," where, in one of the film's most tedious conceits, he lives with an unusual mélange of 11 people, including Kiefer Sutherland, all of whom simultaneously become pregnant. Yes, you read that right.
Derek and Hansel end their self-imposed exile when fashion's current ruler, Alexanya Atoz (Kristen Wiig), invites them to participate in her latest fashion event, to be held, as it turns out, on the grounds of an abandoned medical waste dump in Rome.
In Rome, they meet their successor as top model, All (a brief Benedict Cumberbatch cameo), an individual who claims not to be "defined by binary concepts." Favorite phrase when wanting to exit a situation: "All is done."
Inexplicably also in Rome is Derek's long-lost son Derek Jr. (Cyrus Arnold), who turns out to be a chubby kid whose existence makes Derek Sr. question his belief that "being fat makes you a terrible person."
It is in Rome that "Zoolander 2's" story actually begins, with a James Bond-type prelude of masked men on black motorcycles assassinating Justin Bieber (yes, he plays himself) for reasons that become explicit if not exactly clear as things unfold.
That assassination gets the attention of Valentina Valencia (a game Penelope Cruz), a special agent with Interpol's Galactic Fashion Division, the same folks who put Mugatu into the European Union Fashion Prison, which turns out to be an actual place we get to visit.
Valentina has an idea that Zoolander can help her find the killer of Bieber and other international pop stars, and the unexpected presence of the great man in Rome allows her to test her theory.
With its four credited writers, a plot that really doesn't exist and an on-again, off-again gestation period that lasted more than a decade, "Zoolander 2" defines haphazard. You may smile at times, but not as often as you'd like.
MPAA rating: PG-13, for crude and sexual content, a scene of exaggerated violence, and brief strong language
Running time: 1 hour, 42 minutes
Playing: In general release