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Qreview: ‘Zoolander’ is funny — for the first two minutes

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Despite some funny moments early on, Ben Stiller’s newest comedy, “Zoolander,” can’t keep the laughs going. It soon resembles one of the awful, “Saturday Night Live” movies which try to wring a film out of a sketch that was only marginally amusing to begin with. The only shocker is that “SNL” producer Lorne Michaels had nothing to do with this production.

The problems with “Zoolander” start soon after it moves past the introductions, because this is essentially a one-joke film. The Joke: Stiller (“There’s Something About Mary”) is a self-obsessed idiotic super model named Derek Zoolander. It’s a nice setup for a sketch (which is what Stiller created the character for), but the concept isn’t strong enough to carry a whole movie. Even an 89-minute movie. And once the story kicks in, the film really begins to sputter.

When a reformist prime minister of Malaysia plans to wipe out child labor, the heads of the world’s major fashion companies arrange to have him assassinated. They pick Stiller’s Derek Zoolander because they believe he will be easily brainwashed due to his intellectual shortcomings.

In charge of molding Stiller is Will Ferrell (George W. Bush on “Saturday Night Live”) as the sinister fashion designer Mugatu. As usual Ferrell shines, stealing the few scenes he appears in. Surrounding him are the usual henchmen and vixens, who chase the good guys and absorb various blows. None makes any mentionable contributions.

Zoolanders’ initial rival, the equally dim model Hansel (Owen Wilson, star of “Shanghai Noon.”) interacts well at times, but is underused. On screen most of the time is Stiller, which is no surprise — he’s also the film’s director and one of the writers. That might also explain the presence of his wife, Christine Taylor (“The Brady Bunch Movie”) as the straight-woman Time magazine reporter. While she does a serviceable job, she won’t amaze anyone, but that’s mostly the fault of the material.

There are some very funny moments, most notably the homeless chicfashion show that hosts the final showdown. Models wear clothes “in the fashion of the homeless” for a line called “Derelicte.” That was great ( if you momentarily push aside the ethical questions of making fun of the homeless), but too many of the gags don’t work, and when you throw as many at the audience as Stiller does, the dead spots build.

“Zoolander” is not as bad as another film he directed (ever see “The Cable Guy”?) but nothing to brag about either.

Reach Qguide writer Glenn Ferrara by e-mail at timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 139.

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