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Zoolander is a 2001 comedy featuring Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson. It received a sequel called Zoolander 2 on February 2016.

Summaries

Derek Zoolander has been the dominant male model in the industry for three years thanks to his patented "look," Blue Steel. On the night of the VH1 Fashion Awards, what should be his fourth trophy goes to an upstart model named Hansel. Adding to the insult, a story in Time magazine brands him an idiot. Derek decides to retire and seek out his roots. Meanwhile, the new prime minister of Malaysia has upset a secret coalition of fashion designers by promising to raise the minimum wage, effectively ending their supply of cheap labour in sweatshops. Sensing disaster, the covert group charges Mugatu, the current king of haute couture, to find a mindless male model to brainwash into assassinating the new world leader. Derek, rejected by his family, stumbles predictably into Mugatu's hands and the only ones who can save him are the reporter who took away his good name, his rival Hansel, and a mysterious model from the past who sheds light on the whole conspiracy. They have to work against time and Derek's ineptitude to stop him from killing on the night Mugatu reveals his newest clothing line with the Malaysian minister as his "honoured guest".

Plot

News footage datelined Kuala Lumpur: newly elected Prime Minister of Malaysia promises to increase the minimum wage and eliminate child labor. The screen rolls up to reveal a large, dimly lit space in a warehouse. Clothing designer Jacobim Mugatu has been called on the carpet by a secret international cabal of fashion industry moguls. The cabal is disturbed because the new prime minister's policies will cut deeply into the fashion industry's profits. They direct Mugatu to assassinate the PM using a brainwashed agent -- someone who isn't too bright. Apparently they've done this sort of thing before. Mugatu reluctantly agrees (he'd prefer to concentrate on the upcoming show for his new collection), but wonders where he'll find someone dumb enough.

Cut to a photo shoot where male model Derek Zoolander is being made up while reporter Matilda Jeffries interviews him for an article in Time magazine. Derek says he decided to become a model "the first time I went through the second grade," when he realized how good-looking he was. He shows Matilda a couple of the "looks" -- facial expressions -- he's best known for, including Blue Steel and the "softer" Le Tigre. They look exactly the same. The rest of the scene is intercut with footage of celebrities giving sound bites in praise of Derek Zoolander. Derek tells Matilda about Magnum, a new look he's been working on for 8 or 9 years, but says he isn't ready to show it to anyone.

The TV coverage for the VH1 Fashion Awards starts, naturally, with the arrival of the key players. First to roll up is Derek, who we learn is three-time Male Model of the Year. He's defending his title against the hippie-ish Hansel, a fabulously successful rookie. Hansel arrives on a folding scooter and does tricks with a yo-yo as he walks down the red carpet. Next in are Mugatu, who's picketed by protesters supporting Prime Minister Hassan's fair wage laws, and Zoolander's agent, Maury Ballstein of Balls Models, who arrives in time to stop Derek from revealing anything about Magnum to a TV interviewer.

Inside, Fabio accepts the "Slashie" award for the "best actor 'slash' model and not the other way around." When the Male Model of the Year is announced, Derek mishears the announcement and embarrasses himself by trotting up to accept Hansel's award. In the audience, Mugatu tells Maury that Derek is just the idiot he's looking for to resolve the Malaysian situation. Maury sadly agrees that Derek, now washed up, is "ready."

Derek stumbles out of the awards ceremony, stares at his reflection in a puddle, and asks it who he is. It doesn't know either. Hansel rides by and taunts Derek. Derek walks through the city watching his billboard pictures changing to pics of Hansel while a Jumbotron TV replays his award gaffe. He gets home and crashes in his bunk; his three roommates are already asleep in adjacent bunks.

Next morning, Derek's roommates Brint, Rufus and Meekus, who are also male models, sit around complaining about Hansel. Derek, sporting penguin-print feetie pajamas, interrupts the grouse-fest to wonder if they should be doing something more meaningful with their lives-helping people. His roommies suggest that orange mocha frappuccinos will make it easier to sort out these important issues. Cut to the boys out for a drive with their drinks. They pull into a gas station and start a playful water fight with the windshield squeegees. Derek sees someone discarding a copy of Time and goes off to retrieve it. He's on the cover, but the coverage isn't kind: "Derek Zoolander: a model idiot?" In the background, the water fight has progressed into a still playful gasoline fight. Then one of the boys lights a cigarette and the resulting fireball kills all three of them.

Derek gives the eulogy (or eugoogoly, as he pronounces it) at the triple funeral. He uses the opportunity to announce his retirement from modeling (though he's interrupted by the late arrival of Hansel and his entourage). On the way out of the cemetery (St. Adonis), he runs into Matilda, who is failing to persuade Mugatu to talk to her. She apologizes to Derek for the "harsh" Time story and blames her editor for the headline. She asks Derek to help her find background on Mugatu, but he brushes her off.

At Balls Models, Derek tells Maury he wants to go home and reconnect with his family. He also wants to do something meaningful with his life; he dreams of teaching underprivileged children to read. Maury reminisces about Derek's beginnings in the business and how he couldn't turn left to save his ass. (He still can't.) He tells Derek that Mugatu wants to hire him, but he can't convince Derek not to retire.

Cut to Coal Mining Country, Southern New Jersey. In a snakeprint suit with matching luggage, Derek catches up with his father and brothers outside the coal mine. He wants to work with them in the mines. His father is dismissive, but Derek insists.

Back in the city, Mugatu is bitchy to a model ("I'm sorry, did my pin get in the way of your ass?") and tells Maury to get Derek back. Derek is doing a fetching but ineffectual turn at coalmining. At a bar after work, a TV commercial in which Derek appears as a mermaid ("mer-man!" Derek insists) is the last straw for his father and brothers. Although Derek pleads that all he ever wanted "was to make you proud of me, Pop," he's disowned and sent packing. In the parking lot, he asks the stars "who am I?" When his absurdly tiny cell phone rings he assumes it's God, but it's only Maury, calling about a fabulous new offer from Mugatu.

In Mugatu's office, after some suggestive byplay between Mugatu and his assistant over an overly foamy latte, Derek is shown the fabulous new offer: an architect's model of the Derek Zoolander Center for Kids who Can't Read Good. Derek is incensed ("what is this? a center for ants?"), but allows Mugatu to placate him after they agree that the center needs to be at least ... three times bigger than the model.

Matilda visits Balls Models to interview Maury about Mugatu; Maury claims to know nothing about him. He advises her to get a push-up bra.

Meanwhile, Mugatu shows Derek the new collection he'll be representing: Derelicte, "inspired by the very homeless, the vagrants, the crack whores who make this wonderful city so unique." He introduces the tall and sinister Katinka Ingabogovinanana, Derek's minder. She takes him to a very exclusive day spa, where he's to get a massage and brainwashing.

Archie, a flunky at Time who has the hots for Matilda, gives her a big pile of information he's gathered about Mugatu -- but reports that he's found nothing before 1995. A mysterious tipster whose hand is encased in an odd glass contraption calls Matilda and directs her to Pier 12, the location of the spa. She sneaks in and has an awkward conversation with Derek, who unlike Matilda is completely unembarrassed by his post-massage erection, before being thrown out by Katinka, who insults Matilda's wardrobe for good measure. The brainwashing sequence features lots of little animated Mugatus and explains why child labor is a good thing. It conditions Derek to kill the Malaysian prime minister -- who will be the guest of honor at the Derelicte show -- when he hears the '80s hit "Relax" by Frankie Goes to Hollywood.

A week later, Derek wakes up with a start in his bunk at home. Matilda's at the door; she's been looking for him for days. He doesn't quite believe that he was at the day spa that long, even when she shows him the date on a newspaper. He thinks she's coming on to him (which she denies) and turns her down. As she leaves, he mentions that wearing her hair pulled back is bad for her complexion, and performs a quick makeover of her 'do. She looks great (but startled), and wears her hair down for the rest of the movie.

Katinka seems to have staked out Derek's place. She sits in her car muttering about how much she dislikes Matilda.

Back in the Time office, Archie reports his latest discovery: Mugatu's male models "have a bad habit of dying young in freak accidents." Matilda realizes that Katinka is going to kill Derek and rushes off to find him, but the door person at the party he's attending won't let her in.

At the party, Derek saunters around receiving congratulations from celebrities on winning the Derelicte gig. When Hansel bumps into him, he takes offense. Derek challenges Hansel to a "walk-off." Most of the party-goers repair to the old Members Only warehouse to watch the two models resolve their differences. Matilda catches up with Derek on the way, but he won't take the time to listen to her.

A crowd gathers at the warehouse, where there's a runway and a "corner" for each contestant, as in a boxing ring. David Bowie offers to officiate. "This'll be a straight walk-off, old school rules," he says. "First model walks, second model duplicates, then elaborates."

They take turns walking down the runway imitating each other's moves until Hansel comes up with something Derek can't reproduce: he removes his underwear without taking off his pants. Derek hurts himself trying to pull that off.

Riding home with Matilda, Derek shrugs off her warning that Katinka is out to get him because he's despondent at losing another contest to Hansel. He confesses that Hansel could have beaten him with a much simpler move: a left turn. Derek has never been able to hang a louie. As Matilda tries to reassure him, she gets another call from her tipster, who wants to meet her at St. Adonis Cemetery. Derek comes along.

Derek and Matilda stroll the cemetery reading gravestones. Derek notices that none of the male models buried there lived past 30. The tipster turns up and notes that he himself made it past 30. He won't tell them his name. He says they've stumbled on something big: the fashion industry has used male models to carry out "every major political assassination over the last 200 years," including Lincoln (who was targeted because abolishing slavery wiped out the free labor the fashion industry relied on) and Kennedy (because the Cuban embargo cut off the supply of Sansabelt slacks).

Matilda drops her flashlight and the tipster absent-mindedly reaches for it with his left hand, which is covered with an odd glass contraption. Derek recognizes the hand as that of J.P. Prewitt-"the world's greatest hand model!" The glass contraption is a home-made hyperbaric chamber meant to preserve Prewitt's hand. Prewitt explains that models make good assassins because they're in good shape, they're famous enough to get past security, they don't think for themselves, and they're used to following directions. He also mentions that when they've completed their missions, assassin-models are killed. Just then, Katinka and some goons start shooting at them. Prewitt tells them to get hold of Maury Ballstein's computer; Maury has protected himself by documenting all he knows about the fashion-industry cabal and the assassinations. In parting, Prewitt offers Derek some encouraging words about Blue Steel and the long-anticipated Magnum.

In search of a hiding place where no one-and especially Katinka-will think to look for them, Derek and Matilda go to Hansel's. Hansel is willing to let them in, but first, he makes Derek explain why he's "been acting so messed-up towards me." Derek admits that he feels threatened by Hansel. Hansel says he's been acting messed-up towards Derek because he's intimidated by Derek's reputation, and in fact Derek inspired him to become a male model. "I freakin' worship you, man."

Hansel shows them around his loft, which is huge and full of friends. The three of them sit down together and get high on "tea," and Hansel asks Matilda why she dislikes models so much. She confesses that when she was young she was the fat kid in her class, and she used to pore over the photos in fashion magazines yearning to be thin like the models. Eventually she became bulimic, for which she blames the models. Hansel and Derek don't see the problem with throwing up after meals -they do it themselves- and want to know whether it caused guys to show more interest in her. She admits that her sex life is pretty much nonexistent. Hansel suggests they "give in to the power of the tea" and get naked. They all- including Hansel's friends- have a lot of sex.

Next morning, Derek tells Hansel he's falling for Matilda. Matilda comes in and reminds them that they have to get hold of the evidence of the assassination plot before the Derelicte show starts in three hours.

Derek and Hansel sneak into Maury's office dressed as maintenance men. Matilda instructed them to find the files on Maury's computer (an orange iMac) and email them to her, but they can't figure out how to turn the thing on. Before leaving for the show, Derek gives Hansel his tiny cell phone, asking him to give it to Matilda if anything happens to Derek. Hansel, having grasped that the files (he's thinking paper) are inside the computer, takes the computer and heads for Derelicte himself. Meanwhile, Matilda checks in at the office, where Archie at last has the goods on Mugatu: Mugatu was kicked out of Frankie Goes to Hollywood before they made it big with "Relax." He broke into fashion by inventing the piano-key necktie.

When she figures out that Mugatu used "Relax" to trigger the conditioning that will induce Derek to kill the Malaysian prime minister, Matilda rushes to the fashion show. Backstage, Derek confronts Maury about the assassination plot, causing Maury to have a change of heart. Derek hits the runway as Matilda arrives and tangles with Katinka. She tells Hansel about the trigger. "Relax" starts playing and Derek's conditioning kicks in, but Hansel has broken into the DJ booth. During a break-dance fight between Hansel and the DJ, the music switches from "Relax" to Herbie Hancock's "Rockit" and back. Every time "Relax" comes on, Derek advances down the runway toward the prime minister. Hansel saves the day by shutting down the sound system just as Derek gets his hands around the prime minister's neck.

Mugatu publicly accuses Zoolander of trying to kill the prime minister. Hansel comes to Derek's defence, revealing the brainwashing and claiming that he has evidence in the computer -- which he proceeds to drop from a catwalk above the stage, expecting to find paper files in the debris. Mugatu thinks the evidence has been destroyed and he's home free, but Maury changes sides and calls his wife to bring his backup files. Mugatu denounces Derek: "Blue Steel, Ferrari, Le Tigre? They're the same face! Doesn't anyone notice this? I feel like I'm taking crazy pills!". Then, determined to complete the mission, Mugatu throws a shuriken (a stylish M-shaped one) at the prime minister. Derek jumps in front of the PM, turns left, for the first time ever, to face the shuriken, and unleashes Magnum. The Magnum look is so powerful that everyone who sees it is amazed and the shuriken stops dead and falls to the floor. Everyone has something to say about Magnum's beauty and general awesomeness. Even Derek's father, watching the show on TV back home in coal country, is finally proud of him: "That's my kid. That's my son!" Magnum looks exactly like Blue Steel, Ferrari, and Le Tigre.

Cut to the future: Derek and Matilda are at the Derek Zoolander Center for Kids Who Can't Read Good, which, it turns out, is a modeling school and which looks much like the architect's model - but much more than three times larger. They're making a promotional video. Matilda turns up with baby Derek Jr, who has just started to display his first "look:.

Cast

Trivia

  • Derek's repetition of the line "But why male models?" for the second time, in the cemetery scene, was an ad-lib by the actors; Ben Stiller forgot his line and simply repeated the earlier line again, and David Duchovny ran with it and gave him a straight answer.
  • Ben Stiller wrote the part of Hansel specifically for Owen Wilson, and said that no one else was even considered for the role.
  • Ben Stiller had several family members in this film: his wife, Christine Taylor (Matilda), his father, Jerry Stiller (Maury Ballstein), his mother Anne Meara (protestor who hits Mugatu with an egg), his sister Amy Stiller (one of Hansel's friends in his loft), and his brother-in-law, Mitch Winston (director of the infomercial).
  • Derek Zoolander's "Blue Steel" look evolved from Christine Taylor ribbing her husband, Ben Stiller, about the way he combs his hair in front of a mirror in real life.
  • Ben Stiller wrote David Bowie's scene as judge of the walk-off into the script without knowing for sure whether he would agree to it.
  • The film has been banned in Malaysia because of the use of fictional Malaysian Prime Minister as the subject of assassination. It was originally also banned in neighboring Singapore, but the ban has since been lifted.
  • Bret Easton Ellis, author of the 1998 novel "Glamorama", about a dimwitted male model who finds himself embroiled in a terrorist ring with roots in the fashion industry, sued Ben Stiller following the release of this film, citing copyright infringement. The case was settled out of court.
  • This is the first American movie in which Alexander Skarsgård appeared.
  • Images of the World Trade Center towers were removed before the movie's September 28, 2001 release, only seventeen days after the 9/11 terrorist attacks where the towers were brought down. They were edited out of one shot, and obscured in another.
  • Milla Jovovich (Katinka Ingabogovinanana) based her performance on her mother, Galina Jovovich.
  • The part of Mugatu was originally written for Andy Dick, who couldn't play it due to commitments to Go Fish(2001). Instead, Dick was cast in the smaller role of Olga the masseuse.
  • Hansel said, "Who you tryin' to get crazy with 'ese? Don't you know I'm loco?" These are the opening lines to the Cypress Hill song "Insane in the Brain".
  • The club scene depicts Winona Ryder giving Derek Zoolander advice to "lay low" in order to rebuild his modeling career. This scene "foreshadowed" Ryder's real-life experience with a shipwrecked career. Three months after the release of this movie, Ryder was arrested for shoplifting clothes. Later, she self-imposed a six-year career exile to rebuild her reputation as a serious actress.
  • Premiere Magazine voted this movie as one of "The 50 Greatest Comedies Of All Time" in 2006.
  • The coal mining scenes were filmed at the Sterling Hill Mining Museum in Ogdensburg, New Jersey. It was formerly a zinc mine. Despite what the film suggests, there are no coal mines in New Jersey.
  • While trying to be farcical, the film is actually quite accurate regarding the modelling industry. Even the quick scene of the two sets of bunk beds at Derek's apartment is factual. Cindy Crawford and Jules Asner shared a similar bunkroom during the early days of their modelling careers.
  • The yo-yo scenes, as shown by Hansel, were performed by professional yo-yo performer and Duncan Yo-Yo Company employee Steve Brown.
  • According to an interview with Ben Stiller, this movie started out as a character sketch for VH1 Fashion Awards. After several written scripts and over several years, the studio finally agreed to film it. The movie's release immediately followed the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and has been cited as a reason for its "failure" at the box office. (It didn't fail, it just performed below expectations, and yielded a small profit.)
  • When Derek and Hansel are trying to turn on the computer, the whole scene is a reference to 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). (They are acting like monkeys, the same music plays, and Hansel grabs a bone just like in Stanley Kubrick's movie.
  • Filmed during the VH1 Vogue Fashion Awards in 2000 at the Madison Square Garden Theater.
  • One of Terrence Malick's favorite films.
  • Cameos as themselves include: Victoria Beckham, Sandra Bernhard, Malan Breton, Emma Bunton, Stephen Dorff, Ethan Higbee, Karl Lagerfeld, Gavin Rossdale, Winona Ryder, Donald Trump, Melania Trump, Donatella Versace, and Billy Zane.
  • Despite numerous instances suggesting that Derek has extremely low intelligence, he is somehow able to speak Malay, although he still makes malapropisms.
  • This film marks an unusual historical footnote: the only fiction film to featuring a man and woman in non-archival footage who did not make a prior living as actors go on to become President and First Lady of the United States.
  • The original DVD and a 2014 Blu-ray (with the same green and white artwork) that was very briefly available but pulled from shelves use the original plain end credits sequence with names in flying blue text and no other visuals, transitioning to the crawl a few moments before the music changes. The 2016 Blu-ray (with new extras) changes those credits to the alternate ones (previously available as an extra feature), with Mugatu dancing around clips of the movie illustrating each actor; it then abruptly changes music when the crawl starts (and leaves the last portion of the crawl silent), giving an overall sloppy feel. The original version of the credits does not appear to be available on this edition. The framing of the movie overall seems a little iffy on the 2016 edition as well.
    • Additional scenes on DVD include:
      • Additional celebrity interviews outside the VH1 Fashion Awards of Donatella Versace and Moby
      • Extended walk-off footage of Derek and Hansel doing Elvis Presley moves, and then Derek doing Bob Fosse moves
      • Extended coal mine sequence starts with the Zoolander men sitting in the mine shaft elevator turning on their helmets; later Derek talks to a miner who can't breathe down in the mine
      • Extended sequence of Derek walk home from the Fashion Awards: the car that splashes him in the face a limo full of supermodels who invite Derek to a sex party--he declines; he goes to a nightclub where he fights his way past six bouncers through increasingly-smaller VIP rooms to tell off Hansel--who's talking with a sycophantic Winona Ryder about how bogus awards shows are and that he didn't feel any ill will about Derek trying to take the award from him--in the smallest one, and Derek is physically ejected from the place--explaining the limp he has when he gets home
      • Extended scene of Matilda interviewing Derek: his support crew give her a look when she suggests that his "Ferrari," "Blue Steel," and "Le Tigre" looks are all identical, then he rolls his eyes when she says she works for Time magazine.
      • Alternate hypnosis sequence at Mugatu's spa leaves out the justification of child labor
      • Extended Zoolander Center commercial footage: a sufficiently cleaned-up J.P. Prewitt teaches history there, saying that the pyramids were built by male models; his left hand has also shriveled up
      • On the DVD, as an extra, there is an alternate version of the end credits, which features various clips from the movie, and Will Ferrell dancing.

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