-By David Noh

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As male model Derek Zoolander, Ben Stiller sucks in his cheeks, pouts his lips and stares waifishly into the camera. It's his signature look, which goes alternately by the various names of "Blue Steel," "Le Tigre" and "Ferrari." One's enjoyment of Zoolander will depend largely upon how convulsing one finds this, because it's the one basic, recurring joke of the movie. The character first appeared as a bit of very welcome comic relief on the 1996 VH1/Vogue Fashion Awards show. What was funny in small bytes, sending up the pompous affectations of supermodels and fashion itself, has become extremely tiresome and thin, stretched to feature-film length. Yeah, models are dumb, all right, writer director-star Stiller seems to be saying, and he hammers this amazing revelation home relentlessly, with Derek mistaking a scale model of a building for the real thing, being mystified by how files are kept in a computer, and confusing bulimia with ESP.

The plot has the hapless mannequin brainwashed by evil designer Mugatu (Will Ferrell, way over the top as usual) into attempting to assassinate the prime minister of Malaysia, who wants to put a halt to child labor in his country's clothing manufacture. Zoolander seems the perfect, idiotic candidate for the job when he makes a public spectacle of himself, losing the Male Model of the Year award to his despised rival, the younger, fresher and edgier Hansel (Owen Wilson). Their initial face-down, with both of them serving prettily "mean," narrow-eyed, full-lipped sneers at each other, is amusing, but is followed by an elaborately staged walk-off which just misses the boat comedically (with no less than a scary-looking David Bowie presiding as judge). Wilson, with his pummeled-looking nose, is an able, slacker-styled farceur, but hasn't been given enough to do. Likewise, Christine Taylor (Stiller's wife), who plays the girl reporter/love interest, is wasted as a total straightwoman to the guys' inanities, although she brings a dash of blessed sanity to the thing (as well as her enduring, uncanny "Marcia Brady" quality from the recent Brady Bunch films).

Stiller mercilessly hogs camera time, with that damned look, breathless Valley Boy vocal delivery (which puts quotes around everything he says), and endless lines about being "really, really good-looking." His trademark hairstyle--a suspiciously dark, ridiculously upstanding brushcut--is also sported by his rough-hewn coal miner Dad (Jon Voight, in the undoubted low point of his career). The film is awash in celebrity guest appearances, many cadged from actual VH1 presentations (Tommy Hilfiger! Stephen Dorff!) and has actually been wittily designed and photographed. This could have been a real, juicy satire of the fashion industry, but Stiller is merely interested in battering the audience with his own stupidly "clever" persona and completely fudges the deal.

--David Noh

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