Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
You might be familiar with the work of the comedy troupe "The Lonely Island" even if you think you may not be: The threesome, made up of Andy Samberg, Jorma Taccone and Akiva Schaffer were all writers at Saturday Night Live - with Samberg also being a featured player of course - and are responsible for the popular "SNL Digital Shorts" series. Some of their hilarious music videos, like "Lazy Sunday," "Dick in a Box," "I'm on a Boat" and "YOLO" have become viral sensations and have led to several popular comedy albums over the past decade. And forget about their first feature-film, the 2007 misfire Hot Rod, which tanked at the box office, because their second-film, Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping (opening today), definitely feels like a more worthy marking of their arrival on the big- screen. And while it doesn't quite match the satirical bite of other mockumentaries that have come before it, Popstar is an oft hilarious, semi-biographical romp worthy of their viral videos and a good introduction to their comedy for those who have never been exposed to their lunacy.
Andy Samberg has always been the more visible "front-man" of the troupe, and in Popstar he dials up this fact to the nth degree. He plays pop icon "Conner4Real," who was the front-man for an incredibly successful, influential rap group known as The Style Boyz. The Boyz were hot, with Conner on lead vocals, Owen (Jorma Taccone) as the DJ and the man responsible for all of the dope beats, and Lawrence (Akiva Schaffer) as the writer behind most of the group's lyrics. The movie immediately legitimizes this group's importance in music history, with documentary-style interviews with legends like Ringo Starr, Mariah Carey, Carrie Underwood, DJ Khaled, Questlove and even Simon Cowell commenting on their social and musical impact and legacy.
The story is nothing new, and in fact heavily borrows from This Is Spinal Tap and Fear of a Black Hat, perhaps the two best music mockumentaries ever made (the first film is a classic of course, but the under-rated and under-seen Fear of a Black Hat, chronicling the rise and fall of the faux early 90s rap group NWH "N***as with Hats," is so similar in tone and style that it feels more like a prequel to Popstar than anything else). Conner4Real gets so big he overshadows his cohorts, they all go their separate ways, only to find out that they are better and stronger together.
Much of this premise feels stale, but the fun comes in the sheer amount of unexpected cameos, from not only music legends, but from the myriad of comedians who also appear briefly throughout. In addition to the names mentioned above, you have the likes of Bill Hader, Maya Rudolph, Sarah Silverman, Martin Sheen, Jimmy Fallon that make appearances...I won't totally ruin the surprises, so I'll stop there.
What holds Popstar down is that as much as it wants to be Spinal Tap for the YouTube Generation, it too often succumbs to low-brow dick-and-fart jokes. It is what The Lonely Island is known for, I mean, "Dick in a Box" didn't rise to popularity because of its political messages. But for all of the sharp satire, you leave feeling that Popstar could have been a bit more focused. There are some amazing scenes, like a TMZ-mock-up featuring Will Arnett, Chelsea Peretti and Mike Birbiglia that spoofs the weird energy of that paparazzi-fest TV show, and some great stuff that lampoons our Justin Beiber-obsessed culture. But there are too many scenes that go more for gross-out humor - like when a dude flashes his package up against Conner4Real's car window - that emulate a dumber vibe overall. So I guess it's good that there is something for audiences operating on every intellectual level in Popstar.
It's definitely full of laughs, and I'll follow The Lonely Island anywhere. But Popstar never stops being more than just a low-brow comedy, despite containing real moments of high-brow satire.
Genre: Comedy, Mockumentary
Run Time: 1 hour, 26 minutes, Rated R
Starring: Andy Samberg, Jorma Taccone, Akiva Schaffer, Imogen Poots, Sarah Silverman, Tim Meadows, Chris Redd Written by Andy Samberg, Jorma Taccone, Akiva Schaffer
Directed by Akiva Schaffer (The Watch, Hot Rod), Jorma Taccone (MacGruber)
Looking for a specific movie or review?