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Heroes of the Zeroes: Zoolander

by on December 17, 2010
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Heroes of the Zeroes is Nick Rogers’ daily, alphabetical look back at the 365 best films of 2000-2009. “Zoolander” is the final entry in the series. In reverse alphabetical order, every entry can be found starting at this page.

Rated PG-13

Ben Stiller often forgoes go-for-broke comedy in favor of getting rich. Not in 2001’s “Zoolander,” where his sharp directorial incisors chomped at fashion’s vanity and vapidity.

Gags about white co-opting of black culture sowed seeds for “Tropic Thunder.” Bulimia was endorsed in ersatz fashion. Cell phones were prophetically puny. There was enough room in an orgy for Sherpas and Finnish-dwarf musicians. And the “Derelicte” campaign inspired by the homeless … well, not far off.

Not only Cuba Gooding Jr. and Billy Zane’s best Zeroes work, “Zoolander” remains Stiller’s flat-out funniest film — down to the DVD menu.

Male modeling’s addlebrained ambassador, Derek’s crinkled forehead simultaneously signifies idiocy, curiosity, sadness and anger. Stiller so drastically contorts his face it’s a wonder his puss didn’t freeze in pursed-lip ridiculousness — the crux of Derek’s “looks” like Blue Steel, Le Tigre and Ferrari.

When Derek loses popularity to free-spirit upstart Hansel (Owen Wilson, also markedly goofy-looking with his knobby nose), he learns aging models have become patsies for major assassinations … and he’s next.

As villainous fashion designer Mugatu, Will Ferrell concocts an odd, comic variation of Vincent D’Onofrio’s “The Cell” psychopath. Like the Hannibal Lecter of effeminate girly-men rogues, Ferrell makes maximum impact in minimum time — his climactic squealing freak-out one of Ferrell’s most gaspingly funny bits.

Stiller is preferable in goofy character mode than as an interchangeable nebbish. His accountant and agent might not have much appreciated the underperforming “Zoolander,” but fans of his fearlessness on the fringe in the 1990s sure did.