Movie News & Reviews

‘Popstar’ skewers a worthy target: The music industry: 2.5 stars

On his latest album, pop star Conner4Real (Andy Samberg) sings about marriage equality, but wants to let us know (over and over and over) that he is not gay.
On his latest album, pop star Conner4Real (Andy Samberg) sings about marriage equality, but wants to let us know (over and over and over) that he is not gay. Universal Pictures

Just as the excesses of British rock bands spawned the classic mockumentary “This Is Spinal Tap,” the vapid materialism of today’s pop stars brings forth “Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping.”

There’s no singular target in this bawdy comedy (but plenty of shots are aimed at Justin Bieber/Timberlake). The film scores far more hits than misses as it broadly lampoons the general idiocy in today’s entertainment industry.

And no one is more idiotic than Conner4Real (Andy Samberg of TV’s “Brooklyn Nine-Nine”).

A founding member of the faux hip-hop trio Style Boyz, Conner left his group of childhood friends en route to megastardom. Meanwhile, ex-bandmate Lawrence (Akiva Schaffer) quit the business to become an organic farmer while Owen (Jorma Taccone) backs Conner as a DJ — his entire contribution to live concerts consists of pushing play on an iPhone.

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Now cameras are rolling to document the release of Conner’s anticipated solo follow-up, “Connquest.”

His publicist Paula (Sarah Silverman) wants to get Conner to the point that “he’s just kind of everywhere — like oxygen, gravity or clinical depression.”

But things start collapsing. Conner falls into enormous debt because he recruited 100 producers for just 17 tracks and kept 32 lackeys on his personal payroll, including one short dude whose job is to make Conner look tall in photos.

The songs on “Connquest” aren’t helping much, either. He performs the advance single “I’m So Humble” in concert as a “duet” with multiple holograms of preening Maroon 5 singer Adam Levine humping himself. His ode to marriage equality, called “Equal Rights,” quickly turns into a defensive tirade about how he personally is not gay.

With his career nosediving, Conner realizes the only way to fix things professionally and personally is to reunite the Style Boyz.

Like the characters they portray, Samberg, Schaffer and Taccone met in middle school, eventually finding an audience post-college as comedy trio the Lonely Island. Their viral videos earned them writing jobs on “Saturday Night Live,” where Samberg became a distinguished cast member.

There’s a real knack to composing a song that is intentionally, elaborately terrible. The Lonely Island guys spent 15 years mastering the skill and contribute some of their best work in writing “Popstar.” Highlights include a sexy serenade comparing a young couple’s lust to what Seal Team 6 did to Osama Bin Laden. Then there’s the stoner musing of “Incredible Thoughts”: “What if a butterfly was made out of butter? / These are the thoughts that could kill Big Brother.”

Whenever “Popstar” relies on videos or live performances, it unleashes the type of quotable humor that will have legs long after the movie leaves theaters. The rest of the cinéma vérité stuff feels too familiar. Sampled, as it were. “Spinal Tap” covered this ground 32 years ago. VH-1’s “Behind the Music” popularized the narrative arc.

While the film brims with star power, many faces dart in for underdeveloped bits (a la Bill Hader as a wacko guitar tech) that don’t move the story forward. More effective are celebrities such as Carrie Underwood, Ringo Starr, Mariah Carey and Simon Cowell playing themselves in interview cutaways where they discuss Conner’s influence.

Sandberg, so comfortable at playing clueless, blinkered egotists, anchors the film adequately as the suburban “gangsta” wannabe. Yet his co-stars, Schaffer and Taccone (co-directors of the picture) — who have always been relegated to the background in real life — shine even brighter in their supporting roles. They seem more human. Less improv “sketchy.”

What a fitting meta commentary for a movie about a star trying to come to terms with how to treat his less-famous friends.

Jon Niccum is a filmmaker, freelance writer and author of “The Worst Gig: From Psycho Fans to Stage Riots, Famous Musicians Tell All.”

‘Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping’

  1/2

Rated R. Time: 1:26.

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