I barely remember Zoolander — it was 15 years ago, after all, and I haven’t seen it since — so I can’t exactly say if I’m surprised or not that I got a big kick out of Z2. It’s true that this overdue sequel feels a tad dated: its humor is at its best when it is snarking about how out of touch has-been 1990s supermodels Derek Zoolander (Ben Stiller: While We’re Young) and Hansel (Owen Wilson: No Escape) are with 2016’s fads and fashions as they come out of reclusive retirement in a hoped-for comeback. One joke with massive potential to painfully backfire, for instance, about a gender-indeterminate model, All, played by the cisgender hetero Benedict Cumberbatch (Black Mass), works because it doesn’t hold up hir fluidity for ridicule but rather Derek and Hansel’s clueless and unsophisticated mystification about All. Some mid-20-teens nonsense gets a smack — the crack about “farm-to-table wifi” in a boutique hotel is a win — but mostly Z2 is a parody thriller that’s like The Exorcist via Dan Brown, with a little bit of The Silence of the Lambs thrown in; the skeleton of this story might have been collecting dust for years. Still, there’s a certain cleverness in how the screenwriters — Stiller (who also directs), Justin Theroux (who also appears briefly), Nicholas Stoller (Sex Tape), and John Hamburg (Little Fockers) — take advantage of the Rome setting to combine its mystique in the realms of both fashion and religion. And if there is a scattershot quality to the melange of celebrity cameos, mock-epic grandeur, Kristin Wiig’s (The Martian) outrageously weird fashion designer, and the not quite fully realized spy spoof via Penelope Cruz’s (The Counsellor) endearingly exuberant agent from Interpol’s “global fashion division,” the whole messy package is endlessly and inventively absurd. And unlike so many Hollywood comedies of recent vintage, it maintains that absurdity to the end, never dredging up phony sentimentality because it’s afraid — or worse, doesn’t know how — to follow its silliness through to an even sillier end. I laughed a lot, which is more than I can say about most of what is sold to us as comedy.
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