Movie Review: “Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping”

Starring
Andy Samberg, Jorma Taccone, Akiva Schaffer, Sarah Silverman, Tim Meadows, Chris Redd
Director
Akiva Schaffer & Jorma Taccone

Following the 2007 oddball comedy “Hot Rod,” audiences were eager to see what The Lonely Island – the comedy trio comprised of Andy Samberg, Jorma Taccone and Akiva Schaffer – would cook up next. But while the group found great success with their ongoing series of “SNL” Digital Shorts and Grammy-nominated albums, it’s taken nearly a decade for them to return to the big screen. Their latest film, “Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping,” is a funny but flawed “Behind the Music”-style mockumentary that, although it aims to match the comic genius of Rob Reiner’s similarly themed cult classic “This Is Spinal Tap,” doesn’t quite reach the same heights.

Samberg stars as pop superstar Conner4Real, a former member of the hip-hop group the Style Boyz who launched a successful solo career after falling out with lyricist/childhood friend Lawrence (Schaffer). The group’s other member, Owen (Taccone), decided to stick by Conner’s side as his official DJ, watching from the background as Conner rose to the top of the music world with his debut album Thriller, Also. But when Conner agrees to film a documentary centered on the release of his upcoming sophomore effort, the cameras are there to capture his meltdown when the album spectacularly flops (Rolling Stone gives it a poop emoji out of four stars) and his celebrity lifestyle is threatened. Desperate to win back the public’s affection, Conner implements a number of increasingly silly gimmicks into his concert tour with disastrous results while his new opening act, rising talent Hunter the Hungry (Chris Redd), begins to upstage him.

“Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping” is a surprisingly insightful satire on the vapid, celebrity-obsessed pop music scene that riffs on everything from corporate sponsors (U2’s ill-fated iTunes stunt is reimagined on a grander scale), to chronic oversharing on social media, to low-rent gossip sites like TMZ. The latter is hilariously skewered in a recurring gag featuring Will Arnett as a caricature of sleazy founder Harvey Levin and other comedians as his mean-spirited minions. Unfortunately, the movie condemns itself to such a conventional rise-and-fall narrative that there aren’t as many opportunities to embrace the goofy energy prevalent in The Lonely Island’s other projects. “Popstar” has fun with its premise (often at the expense of its biggest influence, Justin Bieber), but it lacks the edge to really stand out. In fact, despite its “R” rating, the film is relatively mild-mannered in its treatment of celebrity culture.

Not every joke lands, and the movie begins to lose steam in the final act, but “Popstar” does just enough to keep you entertained with its cavalcade of musician cameos and a great lead performance by Samberg, who channels Derek Zoolander as the clueless, self-confident popstar. As expected, the music is the best part, continuing The Lonely Island’s tradition of combining catchy beats with silly lyrics to create songs that rival most stuff on the radio, like the recently released “I’m So Humble” and a Macklemore-inspired track about equal rights in which Conner reaffirms his heterosexuality after every line (“I’m not gay!”). Though the first half of the film is more enjoyable as a result of these music videos and concert scenes, “Popstar” keeps the laughs coming throughout, delivering an amusing (if not exactly laugh out loud) comedy that’s biggest problem is being as disposable as the music it parodies, even if that’s sort of the point.

  

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