Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping Andy Samberg, Jorma Taccone, Tim Meadows. Directed by Jorma Taccone and Akiva Schaffer. Rated R. Opens Friday citywide.
As The Lonely Island, Saturday Night Live veterans Andy Samberg, Jorma Taccone and Akiva Schaffer have created three albums’ worth of original comedy songs that double as catchy pop singles. Songs like “Dick in a Box,” “I’m on a Boat” and “I Just Had Sex” work as SNL sketches, viral videos and self-contained musical numbers, often featuring guest appearances from actual pop stars. So it makes sense that the group would venture into feature films with a cameo-heavy mockumentary taking on the world of pop music, filled with the kind of absurd, hook-laden songs for which they’ve become known.
Written by the trio and directed by Taccone and Schaffer, Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping is modeled after fawning pop-music documentaries like Justin Bieber: Never Say Never and Katy Perry: Part of Me, with their glossy performance footage and carefully stage-managed behind-the-scenes moments. Samberg stars as Conner4Real, a former boy-bander who’s become a massive superstar (with a massive ego) since breaking out on his own, and is getting ready to drop his highly anticipated second solo album. Taccone and Schaffer play Conner’s former bandmates, one now serving as Conner’s producer and DJ, the other having left the group acrimoniously and now working as a farmer.
Conner’s predictable fall from grace and eventual comeback form the movie’s minimal narrative arc, which is mainly an excuse for a bunch of music-industry guest appearances and mild parodies of pop-culture institutions. Samberg is amusing as the immature, self-centered but ultimately good-hearted Conner, and reliable supporting players including Tim Meadows, Sarah Silverman and Bill Hader deliver a handful of laughs each. But even running barely 80 minutes minus credits, Popstar feels like a sketch dragged on far past its obvious endpoint, and it’s tough to get invested in the rote redemption story that takes over the final act.
Not surprisingly, the best thing about Popstar is the music, a perfect balance between making fun of current pop-music conventions and writing actual, effective pop songs. But unlike a Lonely Island video that focuses on the song itself for three or four minutes, Popstar weaves its songs into its mediocre story, and whenever the movie cuts away from one of Conner’s ridiculously over-the-top music videos or performances to some bland joke from a good-natured celebrity, it loses comedic momentum. Popstar is rarely boring and never irritating or offensive, but it’s also rarely all that funny. It’ll do fine when airing some afternoon on Comedy Central, and even better as music videos to watch on YouTube. Like Justin Bieber or Katy Perry, though, Conner isn’t quite entertaining enough for an entire feature film.