After several years of viral success making some of SNL’s most popular “digital shorts,” The Lonely Island — aka Andy Samberg, Akiva Schaffer, and Jorma Taccone — have now expanded their musical parody ambitions to fill a feature film, the Justin Bieber-inspired mockumentary “Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping.” Written by the three of them and directed by Schaffer and Taccone, it’s a Lonely Island film through and through: very funny, with slickly produced music, and it runs out of steam before it’s over.
Samberg plays Conner4Real, a teen pop-rapper formerly with the group Style Boyz, now enjoying a wave of fame as a solo artist. His fellow Style Boyz, lifelong friends Owen (Taccone) and Lawrence (Schaffer), had opposite reactions to the breakup, with Owen staying on as Conner’s DJ while Lawrence, embittered by Conner’s glory-hogging, has gone into seclusion on a Colorado ranch.
The film takes the form of a documentary following Conner on a concert tour in support of his second solo album, so it’s interspersed with footage of his comically over-produced live show and clips from his music videos. These snippets are brief, spot-on parodies of modern pop music, complete with overly sexual lyrics and guest performers (Adam Levine, Pink, etc.) who gamely play along with Lonely Island’s goofing.
There are also talking-head comments by an impressively huge array of real musicians (everyone from Questlove to Ringo Starr) and behind-the-scenes action where Conner enjoys the excesses of a bratty pop star’s lifestyle, guided by his stalwart manager (Tim Meadows) and cynical publicist (Sarah Silverman), who observes that Conner’s music “may not be what I would listen to in my spare time, but it seems to make so many people money.” Imogen Poots appears as Conner’s girlfriend, to whom he proposes in a public gesture involving wolves and Seal. (It is my unequivocal opinion that Seal’s work in this film represents the best thing he’s ever done.)
Most of this is fairly toothless as satire, though it’s funny as far as it goes (and it goes far enough to earn the “outrageous” label, thanks to the guys’ obsession with penises, the funniest of all genitalia). The one scathing element is a parody of the TMZ gossip show (featuring Will Arnett, Mike Birbiglia, and Chelsea Peretti) that brutally mocks TMZ’s insane, vicious pursuit of celebrities and casts the paparazzi as soulless, self-hating jackals.
Where the film goes awry is in the plot, which has Conner getting too big for his britches, being humbled, and reconnecting with the Style Boyz. That arc is predictable, but the larger problem is that it’s not executed with as much sharp, goofy humor as the rest of the movie. Adding to the disappointment is the fact that people like Maya Rudolph, Bill Hader, and Joan Cusack are in the cast yet are given only one or two brief scenes apiece. This suggests to me that there’s a lot of deleted material, some of it probably omitted in favor of scenes more directly related to the story.
And so despite being short (86 minutes), the film doesn’t feel tight or well-structured, but loose, even haphazard. It almost falls prey to Adam Sandler Syndrome, where it’s just a bunch of friends getting together and sort of making a movie. ALMOST. The key difference is that “Popstar” actually does have a lot of laughs. It just isn’t disciplined enough to make the most of all the talent it has at its disposal.
B- (1 hr., 26 min.; )