The new Prime Minister of Malaysia wants to raise minimum wage and put a stop to child labour. Some in the fashion industry are concerned because they have sweatshops on the Malaysian border. If these reforms spread to other countries, they could easily go bankrupt.
The Malaysian Prime Minister soon to visit New York City for fashion week. Mugatu, acting on behalf of the fashion industry as a whole, wants to kill the Prime Minister. He needs someone stupid to pull off this assassination, someone they can kill afterwards.
Derek Zoolander is best known for his looks: Blue Steel, Ferrari and La Tigra. There’s also Magnum, but it’s not ready yet — even though it’s been being perfected for years. At the VH1 fashion awards, Derek’s won male model of the year for the past three years. Hansel, his main competitor, arrives by foldable scooter. Derek and Hansel lock horns visually as Hansel walks past.
At the event, Hansel’s on a huge screen posing in big, white angel wings explaining how he didn’t fit in at school. And, although he doesn’t listen to Sting’s music, he respects the fact that he makes music and cites him as an influence.
When Lenny Kravitz announces that Hansel’s won, Derek hears his own name instead. Both Derek and Hansel leave their seats to accept the award. As the sound system repeats Hansel’s name, Derek is already onstage.
Back with his room-mates, Derek’s friends cheer him up with orange mocha frappuccinos. All four men dance with their drinks in a small, open-topped 4x4. They stop at a petrol station, still dancing. Derek is briefly distracted by a copy of Time magazine with his face on it. The headline reads: A Model Idiot? By Matilda Jeffries. By this time, the others are spraying each other with petrol. One of them lights a cigarette and the entire place goes up in flames — killing all three.
When Derek announces his retirement to Maury Ballstein, Maury says Mugatu wants Derek for his new campaign. Derek declines, saying he’s got to go back to his roots.
Wearing glitzy clothes complete with fashion luggage, Derek calls out to his coal miner father, Larry — filthy from the coal. Derek wants to work the mines like in the past. Down the mine, he’s the only person not filthy. He’s busy pouting and posing and accidentally flinging around his pick axe. Everybody else is straining and covered in coal dust.
In a sports bar afterwards, one of Derek’s ad campaigns comes on the TV. He’s a merman saying “moisture is the essence of wetness”. Others start laughing. Larry calls Derek a mermaid, Derek pointedly says it’s “merman”. Then, Derek takes a call on his tiny flip phone: Mugatu has made him a great offer.
Soon, Mugatu is telling Derek what he’s willing to do for him. He unveils a scale model of The Derek Zoolander Center for Kids Who Can’t Read Good and Who Wanna Learn to do Other Stuff Good, Too. Derek misunderstands. How are the children supposed to get into such a tiny building?
Mugatu shows Derek the “future of fashion” — Derelicte. It’ll be Derek’s glorious comeback. He’s then taken to an exclusive day spa at Pier 12 by Mugatu’s henchwoman, Katinka.
Derek is physically restrained in an egg chair and told to breathe deeply. An evil DJ puts on a record. “Relax” — by Frankie Goes to Hollywood plays loudly throughout the room. Mugatu’s disembodied, talking face has spirals spinning behind it. He’s calling child labour laws restrictive. Derek’s told he can allow these children to work by killing the Prime Minister of Malaysia. Derek is sporadically electrocuted and taught martial arts.
On the runway, he mustn’t be distracted by the beautiful celebrities. He tears off the head of the dummy Prime Minister and suddenly wakes up. He thinks it’s a dream, but Matilda’s been trying to find him for a week. She shows him the date on a newspaper. He sees nothing wrong with having been in a day spa for so long. On the way out the door, he gives her some expert fashion advice.
At a nightclub, Derek receives praise from random celebrities. But, newcomer Hansel shoulder barges Derek. They play the crowd, insulting each other and pouting antagonistically. Derek suggests a walk-off. Hansel agrees. He produces a self-assembling child’s scooter from his backpack and kicks it around and into place. Ten minutes’ time, the Old Members’ Warehouse.
David Bowie calls the contest. The models combine break-dancing with handstands and running-up-the-wall somersaults. In between walks, both models have pep talks from their fashion seconds. When Hansel one-handedly removes his underwear through his trousers, the bar is set high. After some frantic rummaging by Derek, he can’t copy the move. He’s left in agony and David Bowie disqualifies him.
Matilda has a sympathetic, new source. She takes Derek to the St Adonis cemetery to meet him. The source explains how the fashion industry has been behind every major political assassination over the last two hundred years. When the man drops his torch, Derek recognises his hand from a Fall, 1973 watch magazine advert. It’s JP Prewitt — the world’s greatest hand model. He keeps his hand in a homemade, hypobaric chamber to preserve its youthful looks.
He goes on: male models are genetically-constructed to become assassins. They’re in peak physical condition, they can gain entry to the most secure places in the world and they do as they’re told.
JP says Mugatu is an errand boy for an international syndicate of fashion designers. Suddenly, Katinka and staff start shooting at them. JP says they must get to Ballstein’s computer. Ballstein’s recorded everything in case they ever turn on him.
They drive to Hansel’s house to hide. At the door, the two influential men soul search together. It turns out, Derek’s work in the Winter ’95 International Male catalogue first made Hansel want to be a model. Both men apologise and hug.
Chez Hansel, they walk through a busy halfpipe. Hansel then introduces girls, a surfer with board, a band of dwarves and his personal Sherpa, Lapsang. Hansel has some tea from the Mayan ruins brought to them. Derek and Hansel ask why Matilda hates models so much. She says they’re vain, stupid and incredibly self-centred. When she was in the seventh grade at school, she was fat. The pretty girls would make fun of her. She’d go home and admire the beautiful women in the fashion magazines. This made her bulimic. After initially thinking this means she can read minds, the models confess that they’ve both thrown up after meals to lose weight quickly.
When Matilda reveals she hasn’t had sex in years, Hansel says they should all get naked and give in to the power of the tea. The three of them clink their cups in the candlelight ahead of an adventurous orgy involving many people.
In the morning, Derek says he thinks he’s falling in love with Matilda. Hansel says he could feel the energy between them both. Katinka calls Derek asking where he is. He says he’ll be there. Matilda’s eager to get into Maury’s office for evidence of wrongdoing. Derek and Hansel black up their faces to sneak into Maury’s office.
The Malaysian Prime Minister is Mugatu’s guest of honour. Matilda then realises that the song “Relax” is the trigger for Derek to kill. He appears on the runway. The fateful record goes on and Derek is haunted by his brainwashing. He yells and does martial arts moves, until Hansel appears and crossfades to a neutral record, making Derek return to normal. As Hansel and the evil DJ breakdance fight, the DJ keeps crossfading back to the Relax record whenever he can. Every time it does, Derek reverts back to aggressive moves.
Just when Derek’s close enough to kill the Prime Minister, Hansel pulls the plug on the entire music system. He then tells everybody what Mugatu is up to. Katinka jumps up to defend Mugatu, but Hansel uses his yo-yo to disarm her. Matilda jumps onto the runway and overpowers Katinka. Maury then speaks up about Mugatu — having been in on it for thirty years.
Mugatu says he’ll kill the Prime Minister himself, throwing a shuriken. Derek summons all his charisma, turns and finally produces the Magnum look. Derek holds the look as the throwing star stops spinning mid-air and drops to the floor. Everyone applauds and Mugatu’s removed. Derek’s dad is now proud of his son. Derek’s more impressed that he turned left, something he’s always had a problem with. The Prime Minister thanks Derek for saving his life and they both bow.
Derek runs a promo for his new school. How to be a professional model and a professional human being. Maury teaches fashion business. Hansel is taking some kids base-jumping. Matilda has Derek’s child, who’s already working on looks of his own.
Starring Ben Stiller. Owen Wilson. Christine Taylor. Rated 12. Dir Ben Stiller. Released in the UK 2001. Runtime 1hr 30mins.