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One must be more than a little skeptical about a movie that has its origins in a small skit for the VH1 Fashion Awards. While these little comedy sketches worked quite well it was surprising that anyone decided to take this premise and turn it into a feature length movie. The only way this was going to work was if Ben Stiller was retained as Derek Zoolander, a highly amusing caricature of a male model. Thankfully there was no problem getting Stiller to reprise the role, albeit on a much larger scale. But can this film step out of the shadows of a small send-up of the fashion industry and be successful as a farcical comedy spanning over an hour and a half?

Movie

Derek Zoolander (Ben Stiller) is a highly successful model who has based his whole career around a trademark look named Blue Steel. This one look has given him the mantle of the hottest male model in the business. He also has a back catalogue of “looks” (which are hilariously exactly the same as Blue Steel) and is working on a new face called Magnum, which is still in the production stages. But it seems Derek’s career is on the wane, particularly with young up-and-comer Hansel (Owen Wilson) being labeled modelling’s next big thing. Derek thinks seriously about retiring as a male model but instead becomes part of a new and exciting but evil-driven fashion show.

A leading fashion designer named Mugatu (Will Ferrell) wants to use an unsuspecting male model to assassinate the Malaysian Prime Minister. He needs someone stupid enough, naïve enough and vain enough to pull off this intricate stunt. Derek is the perfect choice. With the help of Derek’s manager, Ballstein (founder of the Balls Models company, played by Ben’s dad, Jerry), Mugatu hires Derek to be the star of the show and brainwash him into killing the Malaysian PM.

The potential foil in Mugatu’s plans is a Time magazine reporter named Matilda (played by Stiller’s wife, Christine Taylor), who initially pursues Derek for a story on male models but ends up helping him figure out a way to halt the plans of the evil Mugatu. And Derek really does need help.

"Blue Steel"

The film is actually surprising in that the jokes don’t become repetitive and the stupid style of comedy doesn’t outstay its welcome. Derek is confused when he spends a week in a day spa, struggles to come to terms with the death of his male model friends when they play with petrol and shows his aggressive side when he challenges Hansel to a “walk-off” in a disused warehouse. All of these mini-skits really do work and bring out more than just the odd chuckle. The story still motors along at a decent pace, with only the odd distraction for some showcase comedy sequences to pump up the laugh meter for a while.

All of the performances are top notch. The title role was, of course, made for Ben Stiller and he pulls it off exceptionally well. Playing someone so stupid and vain yet equally passionate is not as easy as it looks. Owen Wilson admittedly plays a version of himself yet still retains that undeniable screen presence which has landed him these kinds of roles over the past few years. I’m not that big a fan of Will Ferrell but he does a great job with Mugatu, as does Jerry Stiller as Derek’s manager. Even Christine Taylor is effective as the serious face among the comedians in the flick. The rest of the cast is made up of a variety of cameos including David Duchovny as a revered hand model, Billy Zane, Winona Ryder, John Voight playing Derek’s father, Vince Vaughn, Milla Jovovich and David Bowie as the impromptu judge of Derek and Hansel’s “walk-off”.

The relatively short running time ultimately works in the film’s favour. All of the jokes that work are close enough together and the story is rounded off quite well without being dragged out to try and pack in a few more attempts at stupid humour. This film could have gone one of two ways. It could have become a biting satire on the fashion industry as a whole or it could have maximised the talent of Stiller and Wilson and become a farcical comedy that pokes fun at models instead of making any meaningful social commentary. We have been taken down the latter road to great effect, with the writers making the wise choice of teaming Stiller and Wilson up half way through the movie rather than have them hating each other for the duration.

If you’re a fan of humour in the vain of Dumb & Dumber then you’ll absolutely love this. When I first watched this flick in the cinema I was sick as a dog yet still enjoyed it, so I’m positive most people will find it effective. A surprising hit considering the birth of the concept lay totally on two small VH1 Fashion Awards skits over five years ago. Highly recommended.

Video

The film is presented in 2.35:1 and is 16:9 enhanced and looks absolutely stunning. The film hangs its cinematography hat on all the vibrant colours and bright locations and the transfer stands up exceptionally well. Everything from the white offices of Mugatu to the colourful model pad of Derek Zoolander come up an absolute treat. No signs of aliasing or artefacts at all, which is now expected from Roadshow’s releases of recent films. Again they have done a great job with the transfer which is bordering on flawless. One of the sharpest and cleanest transfers going around at the moment. Top stuff.

The doomed petrol fight

Audio

The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is quite impressive, despite the obvious lack of surround use due to the comedy genre. There are the odd occasions where the surrounds are used for ambient effects on the like, but it is mainly in the pumping musical soundtrack where the audio really makes an impact. There’s some great tracks included in the film, some with a fair amount of bass, meaning the subwoofer will get a bit of a workout. The only other time it’ll be called upon is in the exploding gas station scene. On the whole, not a bad little soundtrack.

Extras

There’s a decent smattering of extras here, enough to keep even the most demanding of DVD fans happy. First up is the Commentary with writers Drake Sather & John Hamburg as well as the jewel in the crown, Director and star Ben Stiller. All three have an equal amount to say, even though it’s sometimes hard to figure out when Stiller is speaking because he sounds so much like one of the writers. They give the listener a fair amount of information about the story development among other things. One very interesting point that came out of the commentary was the fact that the role of Mugatu was almost exclusively written for TV program News Radio’s Andy Dick. When Dick was tied up filming another project Will Ferrell stepped in and surprised all with his take on the character. A very good commentary track that doesn’t stoop so low as to laugh at the jokes once again.

Also included on the disc are five Deleted Scenes, most of which don’t run for more than a minute. There’s footage of Winona Ryder chatting up Hansel, a failed attempt at a joke about V.I.P rooms and a couple of extra interviews from the VH1 fashion awards about Derek and Hansel, which is where Moby makes a brief appearance. Ben Stiller is on hand for a commentary on each of the clips, shedding light as to why they were cut from the film. Even though they don’t run for very long it’s good to see what sort of stuff was left out and listen to the reasoning from Stiller. There are also five Extended Scenes which also have comments from Stiller as to why they were cut down. There’s a couple of really funny jokes that were left out for pacing reasons, particularly the one involving Matilda’s creepy, obsessed young sidekick. Worth a look.

The Outtakes reel shows a lot of what went on during the production, particularly all of the improvising from some of the cast members. There’s not a lot of footage of the cast members just plain cracking up take after take, which is probably to the detriment of this package. Not much of it is actually all that funny, but it’s still a welcome addition to the disc nonetheless.

The VH1 Fashion Awards Skits are great to watch so we can see exactly where the concept for this film was born. There’s the 1996 and 1997 clips here, with the latter skit being particularly funny.

Other additions to the disc include a music video called “Start The Commotion” by the Wiseguys, which includes a lot of footage from the film, an alternate end title sequence promotional spots and photo galleries. All in all a pretty good extras lineup, with some quality supplements lifting the package well above average.

The atomic wedgie was back in fashion

Overall

Even for a film that had it’s origins in a couple of short comedy sketches, this one really does work. The stupid humour pulled off by Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson and to a lesser extent Will Ferrell manages to raise more than the odd chuckle without overstaying its welcome. There’s some great comedy moments littered amongst the story decent enough for a comedy like this one. Don’t miss the “walk-off” scene because I’ll guarantee it’ll have you laughing. Then again, the whole film probably will. Top stuff.


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