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The curse of Saturday Night Live looms large. From an idea first aired on VH-1 and with the production team in front and behind the camera peppered with SNL regulars, the omens before sitting before this DVD were not good to say the least. Director, producer, co-writer and actor Ben Stiller will have to go some way to erase the recent rank memories of Coneheads, A Night At The Roxbury and Deuce Bigalow...

Derek Zoolander (Ben Stiller) is, according to him at least, really really really good looking. Not only that but he’s patented the ‘Blue Steel’ and ‘La Tigre’ looks and the three-time VH-1 male model of the year and going for a fourth straight victory. In fact, after a pre-show pep session with his squad of stylists where’s being interviewed by Time magazine fashion correspondent Matilda (Christine Taylor), Derek is so deluded by his inevitable impending victory that he blindly accepts the gong at the awards ceremony without realising that the true winner is happy-go-lucky hippie and hated rival Hansel (Owen Wilson).

Cue desolation for Derek, made worse by the publication of Matilda’s harshly critical magazine article, and as much introspection as a male model can handle (about 24 seconds of screen time) which prompts a radical idea: why don’t male members of the fashion industry dedicate their energies to other people who aren’t as good looking or provide a centre ‘for kids who can’t read good’? Thankfully, Derek is persuaded from this course of action by his male flatmates using the fillip of an orange mocha frappucino before an innocent gasoline fight that needs to be seen for its sheer silliness ends in tragedy, leaving Derek all alone chez Zoolander.

Now proposing an undignified exit from the catwalk and a return to his one original idea, Derek announces a return to his family home and his retirement only to be immediately coaxed out of it by manager Maury Ballstein (Jerry Stiller) on the instructions of (literally) barking mad fashion guru Mugatu (Will Ferrell) whose clothing empire built on production from Malaysian sweat-shops is under threat from the prospect of fair wage rises. With bizarre brainwashing administered by shemale Katinka (Milla Jovovich), Derek is turned into a killing machine primed to be subconsciously triggered to kill the Malaysian Prime Minister at Mugatu’s latest exhibition. With Matilda digging for dirt on Mugatu’s activities and Hansel a constant thorn in his comeback trail, can the dim-witted Derek overcome the obstacles in his path for perfecting his new look, known only as ‘Magnum’?

Dumb comedies, or rather, comedies with cranially challenged main characters, are proving to produce quite some cluttered genre. Some, like Dumb And Dumber, hit the mark. Others, such as Dude, Where’s My Car?, miss by a mile. Ben Stiller’s pet project falls somewhere between the two in that, by incongruously attempting to add elements of satirical social commentary to what is really an extended spoof, a bizarre blend of two decidedly disparate films is created and it’s difficult to know exactly how Zoolander is meant to cohesively fit together, if at all. Stiller seems to have been caught between two stools as to structure a plot with jokes in keeping with the demands of the story (such as models unwittingly advocating bulimia) or string together a series of extreme comedic set-pieces (such as the pseudo-orgy sequence). Yes, it is a genuinely funny film, in places, but it remains narratively unsatisfying.

Perhaps some of this is due to the employment of as many star names as Stiller could afford (or mates those that owed him a favour), in unbilled or cameo roles. John Voight is hilarious as Derek’s ashamed and hard-bitten miner father giving a powerful straight performance and looking like he’s wandered in from an entirely different movie. Vince Vaughn as Derek’s brother doesn’t get a word in but raises a titter from under his miner’s hat, Billy Zane has three words but is the subject of the film’s best line, David Duchovny totally subverts his X-Files persona (doubtless the intention) as a shadowy ‘Mr X’ figure who delivers most of the exposition in one speech, Lenny Kravtiz looks confused just being Lenny Kravitz, David Bowie and Stephen Dorff are in there and so on. While’s it’s good fun to play that ‘spot the celebrity’ game as you go along, it does distract from the feature which contributes to the movie’s identity crisis.

That said, the performances from the billed leads are very good. Stiller is effectively amusing as the self-obsessed Derek seeking paternal approval who’s taken down a peg or three, Jerry Stiller is suitably lewd in an over the top gig that Mel Brooks used to do so well and Christine Taylor does very well in the thankless straight role.

Now for the best and the worst. Owen Wilson is absolutely outstanding as scooter-sporting stoner Hansel in a role that was written specifically for him. Sure, he’s playing a version of himself and you’ll probably have seen him do a very similar turn in Shanghai Noon or The Royal Tenenbaums but he snags most of the best lines (often ad-libbed as acknowledged in the commentary) and lights up the screen with his goofball goodness whenever he appears. Milla Jovovich is woefully underused as the Rosa Klebb-like henchwoman but the epitome of unfunny badness here is Will Ferrell. With an ubervillain schtick that somehow crosses Diamonds Are Forever’s gay hitman Mr Kint with Dr Evil, Ferrell’s gurning is strong stuff to take and very quickly becomes irritating. Camp as you like he may be but campness alone does not guarantee laughs and how he’s allowed to be this awful after the fiasco that was A Night A The Roxbury I’ve no idea.

The Bond references above are not incidental as the plot, what there is of it, generously lifts from Britain’s best secret agent, aided and abetted by composer David Arnold with a wonderfully playful score that simultaneously references and lampoons his own work as John Barry’s successor. In addition to the secret agent motif, the movie is crammed with sight gags that satirise other movies. Funniest of these is an homage to the ‘Dawn of Mankind’ moment in 2001:A Space Odyssey as Derek and Hansel try to work a computer by hitting it with a bone but other range from Saturday Night Fever to The Matrix and many more besides.

While Ben Stiller needs more assistance than mere make-up and clever lighting to make Derek Zoolander really really good looking this impressive transfer from Paramount, anamorphically enhanced at 2.35:1, is simply gorgeous and nothing short of superb. Details levels are astonishing, with every subtle (or not as the case may be) motif and pattern of Zoolander’s wardrobe rendered pin-sharp, most noticeably the quite horrific animal print suits, without a hint of cross-colour bleeding. Colours, in keeping with the primary art deco set design, are vibrant while skin tones remain pleasingly natural.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 track, available in English, Czech or German, is useful without ever being outstanding. Channel separation is good, particularly effective during the Zoolander/Hansel walk-off or the brainwashing sequence (although this means you experience the full flavour of Will Ferrell’s Mugatu schtick, ugh!), with the perpetually clear dialogue being pretty high in the mix.

A director’s audio commentary kicks off the (admittedly bristling) extras section of the Zoolander DVD. Here Ben Stiller is joined by co-writers Drake Sather and John Hamburg who form an engaging trio, offering all sorts of anecdotes about the writing process (three years and counting) and the countless revisions that the screenplay endured. Stiller is by far the most technical of the three and illustrates just how much of a Stiller family affair the film is by pointing out the contributions made both in front and behind the camera by his mother, his father Jerry and his wife Christine Taylor!

Stiller also lends his vocal ruminations to 5 deleted scenes and five extended scenes. To be honest there’s a large amount of overlap between these two sections and a lot of excised material is referred to which is not included on this disc. Rather annoyingly you can’t toggle the commentary on the fly which means you’ll need to view all of them twice to appreciate the commentary and non-commentary options. However, these excerpts from the cutting room floor are interesting as they demonstrate the difficulties in making a coherent movie rather than cobble together a series of skits and further illustrate how the movie was assembled in the editing room following feedback from preview audiences and focus groups.

Grouped together with these is an outtake reel. Just shy of four minutes, this is a compendium of the various actors (though mainly Stiller) fluffing their lines. It certainly seems to have been a fun set to be on as one giggle rapidly escalates and breaks up the whole crew.

The inspiration for the film is also included in the form of two original skits, each lasting around four minutes, from the VH-1 fashion award shows of 1996 and 1997. While many of the basic concepts ended up in the finished film (the Derek Zoolander centre, the male model’s inability to turn left), the paucity of the sketches will make you wonder how on earth it was ever made into a full-length feature.

An alternative end sequence reveals a discarded but well-designed riff on the Bondian theme of the movie’s narrative. Lasting around three minutes with additional excerpts of David Arnold’s pastiche of a John Barry score, this includes more infuriating Mugatu mugging from Will Ferrell that, for me at least, somewhat spoils the enterprise.

A whole host of promotional material makes it into the extras section The first of these are a series of very short ‘blip’ style adverts, lasting around 15 seconds each, where Zoolander espouses his own theories on such burning issues as literacy, globalisation on world hunger. Fast, frenetic and occasionally quite funny. The second of these is a trio of mock-up trailers for the ‘MTV Cribs’ show. Spot-on in satirising the inflated egos of stars as they show the MTV crew around their palatial pads, this is one section that really hits the funny bone consistently. The third of these sections is a couple of interstitials where, via the marvel of split screen technology, Stiller the director gets to go head to head with Derek Zoolander as they compare notes on the finished film. Worth seeing once to sample the scope of Stiller’s range as an actor.

Finally, three photo galleries complete the extra features. Focusing on promotional stills of Zoolander, Hansel and elements of the production, the photos are rather small in size but they can thankfully be navigated by using the remote control.

As the movie is very much Stiller’s baby, he’s heavily involved in the excellent interactive design of the menu system. With narration by Zoolander getting in a twist by trying explain all the various options available to you and shrieking contributions by Mugatu (again), it’s obvious how much care and attention has gone into the creation of this DVD.

Okay, so it’s not the most sophisticated or consistently funny film you’re likely to see but Zoolander will tickle your ribs on many occasions and as one man shows go, it’s all to Ben Stiller’s credit after the mauling he received for Cable Guy. Paramount have provided a wonderful transfer and crammed a plethora of worthwhile features onto a single disc so if you’re a fan of Stiller or Wilson, it’s a worthwhile buy.