There’s something very Jimmy Fallon-like about Andy Samberg by which I mean there’s something about him that makes me recoil ever so slightly every time I see him.
Much like Fallon, Samberg is a prom king in nerd drag. A rich, famous and handsome dude who keeps tapping you on the shoulder to joke about what a total dork he is. Generally speaking, he’s about as unlikable as any person who’s ‘really good friends’ with Justin Timberlake can be. But unlike Fallon, Samberg isn’t Carson Daly if he was gigglier and lacked that unsavory uncle vibe, no, Samberg is funny. More importantly, Samberg – and his Lonely Island associates Jorma Taccone and Akiva Schaffer – are funny in that smart/stupid way in which some of the better Adult Swim programs are funny. No surprise, that’s exactly what “Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping” feels like: a big budget, cameo laden, frequently surreal and occasionally hilarious Adult Swim special.
Mocking the disposable, infomercial-as-movie aesthetics of “Justin Bieber: Never Say Never,” “Popstar” is part “This is Spinal Tap” and part “The Rutles: All You Need is Cash.” Presented as a fly on the wall mockumentary, “Popstar” follows dimwitted rapper Conner Friel (Samburg) as he embarks on a gimmick laden world-tour in order to promote his overproduced sophomore solo album “Connquest” (How overproduced? The album was shepherded by 100 producers).
As the film progresses we watch as Connor’s star fades through a series of bad business decisions – such as a tie-in with a kitchen appliance company that will enable Connquest to play every time somebody opens the doors or switches on one of its products – as well as his increasingly poor personal choices – most notably his sham marriage proposal to a shallow actress (played by a game Imogen Poots) that ends with Seal nearly getting mauled to death by wolves.
Meanwhile, as Connor’s career falters, his DJ and former bandmate from the Beasty Boys-esque rap group, The Style Boyz, (Taccone) attempts to reunite (or “Parent Trap” as Taccone notes) Connor with an embittered Style Boyz member (Schaffer) who turned his back on the group after getting screwed out of a writing credit on one of Connor’s most popular songs.
“Popstar” has been criticized for its generic plot, and granted, the plot is pretty generic, but being a smarter-than-average parody movie, “Popstar’s” plot isn’t supposed to be all that original or compelling. It’s only function is to serve as a framework to hang jokes upon. And, as in any parody movie, the jokes are hit or miss but luckily in “Popstar” the ratio is more hit than miss. A TMZ spoof finds Will Arnett’s Harvey Levin stand-in compulsively sipping on oversize thermos mugs as his gallery of hangers-on (which includes Eric Andre, Chelsea Peretti and Mike Birbiglia) groan out glassy-eyed approval. Bill Hader plays a roadie obsessed with the Joel Schumacher film “Flatliners” while Joanna Newsom plays the steampunk attired “doctor” who assists him with his “flat-lining.”
Songs on the “Connquest” album include a pro-gay marriage anthem that’s undermined by Connor’s own insecurities, a Mona Lisa diss track and a tribute to Spain that exists because Connor like the way Spanish people pronounced Ibiza.
Yet as absurd as “Popstar” can get, it’s still an occasionally scathing portrait modern fame, social media and selling out (As Connor notes early on in the film, “If you don’t sell out, people start wondering why no one asked you to sell out”). Funny and weird, the cinematic world of “Popstar” takes place in a universe where Taylor Swift is a convicted killer and Adam Levine is dead. In other words, a world I’d love to revisit.
Mike Sullivan is a movie reviewer for Weekender. Movie reviews appear weekly in Weekender.
“Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping”
Starring: Andy Samberg, Jorma Taccone and Akiva Schaffer
Director: Jorma Taccone, Akiva Schaffer
Weekender Rating: WWWV
Length: 86 minutes