Raps and riffs its way to gold, but far from platinum.
10+ years ago, “Lazy Sunday” took the internet by storm and injected the Berkeley-based comedy musical trio, The Lonely Island, into the mainstream. Since then, they’ve been responsible for countless popular SNL Digital Shorts and a handful of award-winning comedy albums. Now, their first feature-length film, Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping, hits theaters and brings along their superb blend of awesomely crude but catchy pop music, satirical humor, and over-the-top random ridiculousness. Popstar is great at poking fun at the pop music industry, and delivers some really raunchy humor and fantastically clever music, yet fails more often than not to produce worthy punchlines or climaxes to major scenes.
The Lonely Island were on hand to introduce Popstar at the San Francisco screening, and they claimed to have watched plenty of VH1 Behind the Music episodes and music documentaries (One Direction: This is Us, Justin Bieber: Never Say Never, etc.) for inspiration. The focus of Popstar is Conner4Real (Andy Samberg), a former member of the fictional rappin’ boy band The Style Boyz (Samberg with Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone), who breaks off from the trio for his own skyrocketing solo career after enjoying the singled-out focus of the media spotlight. As opposed to following the overly-dramatized formula of the traditional aforementioned music doc titles which they described as “like feature length commercials”, they decided to employ a “what if” strategy — what if the central figure actually crashed and burned while making the documentary? And so Popstar covers the funny rise and hilarious fall of Conner4Real, complete with a sh-tload of musician cameos both within the narrative or as themselves providing documentary-style testimonials. It gives both Popstar and The Lonely Island a lot of credit for their celebrity network.
Of course, you wouldn’t imagine Popstar being any good without The Lonely Island filling it with some hysterical R-rated tunes, and that they do. I won’t spoil any, since the shock-value is part of the joy. Let’s just say that Popstar is full of raunchy, politically incorrect yet super listenable singles that you’ll be streaming on repeat long after you exit the theater. That’s part of why Popstar succeeds — The Lonely Island have already proven their capability of writing gut-busting lyrics so you can have faith that whatever they churn out will satisfy. The problem is…
…the songs can’t save some of the big scenes from falling short of maximum effect. The plot is ridiculous and the story is ludicrous, yet when it’s time for punchlines, Popstar falls flat. It’s when Popstar pushes the R-rating, going the extra mile into absurdity, that it’s at its most funny. When the filmmakers play it even remotely safe, possibly to better simulate the feel of an actual music documentary, the result is a little disappointing. Samberg embraces his usual boyish charm and loud-mouthed ego, yet it’s Schaffer and Taccone who are the scene-stealers, somewhat realistically playing the lesser known “sidekicks.” Despite the desperate and sometimes failed attempts at laughs, Popstar boasts a hilarious soundtrack and enough satirical story turns to be a welcome, though lesser, modern day This is Spinal Tap. Popstar just doesn’t go to eleven — it hovers between 6 and 7.
Popstar opens in Bay Area theaters Friday, June 3rd.