The big question heading into “Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping” was whether The Lonely Island trio of Andy Samberg, Jorma Taccone and Akiva Schaffer could make their brand of pop music humor work in a format that lasts longer than three minutes. Not surprisingly, it’s in different three-minute clips that “Popstar” works best.
“Popstar” is a music mockumentary following a pretty standard faux biography structure: Conner4Real (Samberg) is a huge star who made it on his own after many of years of success as a member of the Nasty Boyz, a trio with his childhood best friends, Owen (Taccone) and Lawrence (Schaffer). The story predictably follows his rise and fall, narrating it with a host of cameos from actual music celebrities playing themselves as well as supporting characters.
Conner is an over-the-top caricature of the dumbest celebrity you can imagine, and Lonely Island makes sure that there’s no element of his music or rise to fame that you take seriously. Ripping into pop music culture, however, isn’t the movie’s focus. It’s a film about a music group because its creators’ gimmick is musical comedy. The goal, presumably, was to create outrageous characters and scenarios, not create stinging satire.
“Popstar” opts for the machine gun style of comedy, unloading jokes in rapid succession knowing that if at least a majority of them stick, they’ve done their job. Ostensibly, that strategy works. A number of gags land and feel like rather original jokes, too. From a wolf attack to a wardrobe malfunction to an argument in a limo that’s besieged by naked body parts, the sequences constructed with the intention of being funny often are, it’s the wedged-in jokes that aren’t centerpieces that fall flat.
Surprisingly, the comedy songs used in this movie aren’t the highlights. Conner’s single about equality in which the lyrics are all about how he’s not gay even though he’s singing about LGBTQ rights is pretty standard for Lonely Island. Fans of their music will be pleased, but the comedy really comes from the joke-writing and the occasional quick-witted dialogue exchanges.
Nothing about the plot is surprising or particularly clever, however, and knowing exactly what direction they’re going to take the story within the first 10 minutes weighs down the ceiling for what “Popstar” could be. If more jokes missed than hit, this flaw would be abundantly apparent and have caused the whole movie to collapse.
The Lonely Island brand of cleverly packaged immature humor won’t be a hit with everyone, but it definitely salvages “Popstar,” at least enough that I can highly recommend the clips.
Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping
Directed by Akiva Schaffer, Jorma Taccone
Written by Andy Samberg, Akiva Schaffer, Jorma Taccone
Starring: Andy Samberg, Akiva Schaffer, Jorma Taccone