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Monday December 6th

Stiller Walks the Catwalk for Modeling Satire

Zoolander

With its excellent line of trailers, "Zoolander" hung like a beacon over a summer of mostly forgettable, sometimes astoundingly lame comedies (i.e. "Summer Catch"), promising better things in the coming fall.

Unfortunately, it fails to deliver on its promise.

Although there are several flashes of the inspired comic brilliance you'd expect from a Ben Stiller film, too many of the jokes are either too childish or simply miss the mark.

The synopsis of the film is enough to make most comedy fans' mouths water: Stiller plays Derek Zoolander, a remarkably stupid male model who is brainwashed by a devious fashion guru into wanting to kill the prime minister of Malaysia.

Basically all the jokes in the film revolve around the depth of Stiller and his fellow male model compatriot's (Owen Wilson) vanity and stupidity.

And to a lesser extent, the film also mocks popular culture's idealization of beauty and its tendency toward celebrity worship -- the type of people Zoolander epitomizes.

It's very obvious from Stiller's numerous appearances on everything from MTV to Skyy Vodka ads that the target audience of the film is the same group that has raised people like Britney Spears to demigod status.

The lurking feeling that somewhere there is a guy with frosted hair and a backward, upside-down visor laughing at the models' ridiculous clothing made the commentary seem hollow.

Other aspects of the film fare better. One of the opening scenes takes place at the VH1 Fashion Awards. After Fabio receives a "Slashie" for best actor/model, the mini-biographies that introduce Zoolander and Hanson (Wilson) are almost worth the price of admission.

The film also includes a break dancing fight in a DJ booth, and you'll never look at the dance the same way again. Who would have ever suspected "the worm" could have been such a devastating weapon in addition to being a show-stopping party trick?

It's the times in between the momentary flashes of brilliance that prevent "Zoolander" from succeeding.

Whereas the secondary characters in "Austin Powers" enhanced the film and sometimes even upstaged Mike Myers, they are this film's fatal flaw.

The evil fashion designer (Will Ferrell) and Zoolander's manager, Maury Ballstein (Jerry Stiller) simply aren't funny.

Jerry Stiller reprises his role from "Seinfeld" as caustic, irritable Jewish guy, but something seems to have been lost in the translation.

The lone exception to the rule of lame counterparts is Wilson.

Although some of his best moments are given away by the trailer, Wilson effectively plays dumb to Ben Stiller's dumber.

Their runway battle early in the film was yet another reminder that this film had all the ingredients to be the first great comedy of the year.

But due to a consistency oscillating between brilliant and childishly dumb, it ultimately fails.

The Arts & Entertainment Editor can be reached at artsdesk@unc.edu.

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