The team behind “Saturday Night Live’s” viral hits “Dick 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 achieved even greater success with his first solo album. However, his second album, Connquest, is a total disaster. With his life falling apart, one Style Boyz bandmate, Lawrence (Akiva Schaffer), refuses to speak with 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 really are.
The story is told as a mockumentary that's a mix of Behind the Music sap and This Is Spinal Tap satire, complete with controversy, rampant stupidity and backstabbing. 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 so famous, childishly claiming she "looks like a Garbage Pail Kid," and there's a false modesty in "I'm So Humble" that Mariah Carey claims to love.
Speaking of Carey, throughout the film we learn of Conner's level of 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 and Justin Timberlake. Clearly the creators of the film — The Lonely Island trio of Samberg, Schaffer and Taccone — aren't satirizing one person or band, but rather an entire industry of celebrity culture. It takes guts and intelligence to latch onto social trends, understand them and scathingly lambast 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 absolutely 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 tricky, as it would essentially slap audience members in the face for liking who they like, and remember this: The target audience for Justin Bieber, Pharrell, Taylor Swift (and 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 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 for not biting the hand that feeds it. It's just not that kind of movie. It is, however, a funny film with appealing music that might just get you thinking about whether the celebrities you adore are worthy of said adoration.
Did you know? • In a recent interview I conducted with Samberg, Schaffer and Taccone, the trio claimed that Ringo Starr was the most exciting cameo they were able to get, and (jokingly) that "He loved the movie, and loved meeting us."