Do you want to see the real world of male modeling, the one they don’t show you in magazines or the E! Channel?
1) Zoolander vs Hansel
- Derek Zoolander, the man whose really really ridiculously good-lookingness took him from the anonymity of southern Jersey’s coal mining country all the way to international fame & fortune as the world’s #1 Male Model. One man, five syllables. Played by Ben Stiller.
- Armed with: Though he mostly relies on his more physical skills in this battle, Derek is never far from his signature and diverse Looks, which include Ferrari, Le Tigre, Blue Steel and the enigmatic Magnum.
- Hansel, so hot right now. An up & comer whose free-range attitude puts him in stark contrast with Zoolander’s sleek style. Though new & inexperienced, he’s got some tricks up his sleeve.
- Armed with: Hansel carries his trademark scooter but it doesn’t get any play here.
There’s also the notable presence of:
The Setup: Zoolander and Hansel have been drifting toward this inevitable confrontation for a while now. Early in the film, a perfectly reasonable misunderstanding led to an awkward confrontation at the annual modeling awards show, which in turn set off a chain of events that caused a humiliated Derek to retire from the world of male modeling.
But returning to his roots proved useless, as Zoolander’s true talent lies in being really, really, ridiculously good-looking. Goaded by a promise from the villainous Mugatu to help Derek build a center that will help kids learn to read good (and learn how to do other stuff good too), Zoolander agrees to return to modeling as part of Mugatu’s exclusive and incredibly classy “Derelicte” campaign.
At an industry party, a cocky Zoolander brushes by Hansel, and can’t resist lobbing a couple verbal sneers at him. Though Hansel at first tries to walk away, Derek eggs him on, and soon their confrontation escalates. They play some devious mind games as they try to psych each other out.
Finally the title character has had enough, and he challenges the brash upstart to the ultimate of all contests: a walk-off. Stunned, Hansel (so hot right now) eventually agrees. They will meet at their version of the OK Corral: the old Members’ Only Warehouse, in ten minutes. This is about to be settled on the runway.
Pretty crazy stuff. Derek should have listened to his friend Billy Zane.
It’s a walk-off. It’s a walk-off.
The Fight: Once Bowie introduces himself and establishes the rules (first model does a distinctive walk, second model duplicates it and elaborates. But come on, you already know how walk-offs work), the opening strands of what is surely the most exciting fight scene music of all kick in: Michael Jackson’s “Beat It.”
Director Stiller wisely shows us the complete walk-off and Hansel’s duplication, to give the audience some grounding. From there though the whole sequence is infused with bravura filmmaking. The conflict turns into an extended yet zippy montage, gliding back & forth between each devastating move and its expert counter. Often we’re even shown the action in split-screen– all the better to instantly compare the two’s amazing feats of mimicry.
And such amazing feats they are. The rivals shimmy, leap, flip off the wall, perform hand-stands and even do the Robot. In addition to the camerawork and editing, the performances and choreography here are completely top-notch.
The action frequently cuts back to the two contestants as they wait their own turn, with their backstage demeanor quickly transitioning from smug & cocky to outright weary. Hansel in particular seems very worn-down, at one point ordering his runway-side assistant to cut the fringe near his eye in a graphic sequence. Material this powerful, it’s little wonder that Sylvester Stallone was so obviously inspired by it.
It’s that same weariness, though, that makes Hansel desperate enough to “go monk.” Drawing on some exotic disciplines he’s dabbled in (we’ll learn more about the character’s mystically-inpired lifestyle later) and praying to the “Great Spirit,” Hansel takes the stage again with renewed purpose. The beats of “Beat It” subtly fade away and are replaced with some exotic foreign music as Hansel shoves his hand down his own pants. After several spastic movements around his groin, Hansel’s hand suddenly emerges in a dramatic slow-mo shot with the prize he’d been searching for: his own underwear. The golden-haired adonis had somehow learned a technique to remove his tighty-whiteys without pulling them down past his feet. Truly, nothing is impossible for the determined male model.
Even Bowie is impressed. And when David Bowie is impressed at things you can accomplish within your pants, you know you’ve got something special.
Zoolander takes the runway uncertainly and is visibly nervous as he prepares to attempt to replicate the achievement. The music dies down to an ominous hum, signaling the stakes if Derek loses. He even thinks to himself how glad he to have worn underwear that day (come to think of it: if anything, wouldn’t a lack of underwear excuse him from having to duplicate this stunt?). He darts into his pants with one, and eventually two hands, furiously working about and visibly pained. The music builds to a fever pitch, and Zoolander’s hands shoot up with a fistful of his leopard-print briefs… which are still secured around his crotch. He hasn’t just lost, he’s given himself the ultimate wedgie. Ouch.
Bowie’s disapproving voice confirms the hero’s defeat. But we don’t stay for long to witness Hansel’s revelry, because Mugatu’s henchwoman Katinka Ingabogovinanana shows up with thugs in tow, prompting Derek’s reporter friend and would-be paramour to usher him out immediately. And unfortunately not straight to an ice pack.
Good work here. The nature of the conflict is spelled out in simple but superb detail, and the director pulls all sorts of tricks to keep the confrontation constantly dynamic & interesting. We get a clear sense of the fighters’ abilities: Zoolander is experienced and confident, but Hansel (so hot right now) is limber and unpredictable.
The fight also works well in the context of the story, further establishing what kind of weirdness to expect from Hansel, cutting down on Derek’s recovering ego a bit, and most importantly, bringing the pair’s conflict to a head in order to pave the way for their reconciliation later.
If anything it suffers from perhaps being a bit too short; it’s not long at all (not even the full length of “Beat It”) before we wind down to Hansel’s deciding move. But it’s a minor complaint.
Recommend Links: This film is only Bowie’s second-best cameo. This is the best.
Okay, I hope that was fun for you, because it was fun for me. After drowning in over 10,000 words of Star Wars I needed to blow off some steam and act a little silly. Sillier than usual, anyway. I think after this I’m going to slow down to a two-posts-per-week schedule permanently. Three was a bit much.
Coming Attractions: More serious. But still silly.