The Lonely Island, the team behind Saturday Night Live's viral hits "D--- in a Box" and "Lazy Sunday," now bring us the feature-length Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping, and it's every bit as crass, ridiculous and hilarious as you expect. And if you haven't heard of those viral videos, go see Popstar anyway because it's damn funny and surprisingly smart.
Andy Samberg stars as Conner4Real, a music superstar who shot to fame as part of the Style Boyz trio and later had great success with his first solo album. However, his second album, Connquest, is a total disaster. With his life falling apart, one Style Boyz band mate, Lawrence (Akiva Schaffer), refuses to speak to him, while the other, Owen (Jorma Taccone), has been relegated to the role of a background DJ. Conner's manager (Tim Meadows), publicist (Sarah Silverman) and girlfriend (Imogen Poots) offer support, but you sense they realize how superficial his work and celebrity are.
The story is told as a mockumentary, a mix of a Behind the Music special and This Is Spinal Tap absurdity complete with tales of controversy, rampant stupidity and back-stabbing. The music is trashy, catchy and fun – "Equal Rights" shows Conner worried about being perceived as gay while insisting there's nothing wrong with it, "Mona Lisa" questions why the painting is famous by saying she "looks like a Garbage Pail Kid," and there's a false modesty in "I'm So Humble" that Mariah Carey says she loves.
Speaking of Carey, we learn about Conner's success and stature from pop stars such as Nas, Carrie Underwood and Usher, and there are other cameos throughout from the likes of Emma Stone, Justin Timberlake and more. Clearly creators Samberg, Schaffer and Taccone aren't satirizing one person or band (though there are a few direct Justin Bieber jabs), but rather an entire industry of celebrity culture. It takes guts and intelligence to latch onto social trends, understand them and scathingly satirize for optimum comic value.
But co-writers Samberg, Schaffer and Taccone (the latter two also co-directed the film) only take it so far. Teetering just below the flashy outfits, marijuana, bling, entourages and hangers-on is the utter stupidity of it all. The filmmakers are aware of this but never go so far as to overtly criticize; they're reticent when they could be resonant with cultural commentary on how and why we consume all the trash celebrities provide. Doing this, however, would've been risky, as it would essentially slap audience members in the face for liking who they like, and remember this: The target audience for Bieber, Pharrell, etc., and for this movie are one and the same.
This doesn't mean the filmmakers don't get their shots in, of course, sometimes in more obvious ways than others. A TMZ-inspired TV show called "CMZ" isn't even trying to be coy about what it's spoofing, and Conner's desire to release his second album through household appliances suggests how intrusive technology has allowed the media to become whether we as consumers like it or not. "There's no such thing as selling out anymore," Conner says, and darn if your music automatically playing when people open their fridge doesn't suggest that's true. Do we really want to listen to a sellout? The story doesn't explore that question, but it would've been interesting if it did.
In fairness, you can't deduct points from Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping for not biting the hand that feeds it. It's just not that kind of movie. It is, however, a funny movie with appealing music that might just get you thinking about whether the celebrities you adore are worthy of adoration.
3 out of 5 stars
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