Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping

Popstar 2.jpg
UK Release Date 26th August 2016
Director Schaffer & Taccone
Starring The Lonely Island
Runtime 87 Minutes
Certificate 15
Reviewer Si
Reviewed 30th August 2016

It’s been a number of years since I was introduced to the joy that is Dick In a Box. I think I was probably in the States at the time as I’m not convinced that too much of the deliriously silly The Lonely Island trio’s work is that well known on this side of the pond. At least not to someone of my rapidly advancing years. None the less, I was there at the start, at least that’s what I’m claiming. If you missed that opus, have a dig through Youtube, I’m sure it’s on there somewhere. There is also the more recent, but just as hilarious I’m on a Boat, which you can find here: I'm on a Boat

What I’m leading up to of course is Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping, essentially The Lonely Island: The Movie. Trio Andy Samberg (of Brooklyn 99 fame if you’re so inclined), Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone hit the big screen with a wide ranging and spectacularly scattershot destruction of Facebook celebrity and a world where ambition regularly outstrips talent by a prodigious distance.

Samberg takes the central role of Conner4Real, breakout solo star from original boyhood trio Style Boyz. By the time we catch up with him, Conner has moved on from the group and has tasted phenomenal success in his solo career with his first album. The difficult sophomore effort is in production and, withone member of his old band hiding out on a farm in the middle of nowhere whilst the other is now his DJ (though the actual work behind this job is hilariously revealed to not exactly tap the band member's musical talents), Connor takes on more of the writing duties himself.…

Needless to say it all goes horribly and predictably wrong. Owen (Jorma Taccone) becomes increasingly marginalised in his hilariously pointless DJ role and attempts at reconciling Lawrence (Akiva Schaffer) end in, well, penis through a car window disaster. So when everything else collapses, can Conner reconnect with his roots and prove that he’s more than just a shallow, talentless ego trip?

Clearly some back history with the boys and a pretty decent knowledge of American music TV is a bonus here. In fact, I am so far out of the loop on the latter that I’m not even sure if TMZ is music TV. There’s a whole running gag in the movie that cuts to CMZ (I’m assuming a take on TMZ) where Will Arnett and various other SNL guys lounge around, drink from huge pop containers and slate Conner. I had absolutely no idea what was going on but thankfully these were small inserts.

For the rest of the movie, well, if you like the I’m on a Boat video mentioned above, you’re pretty much going to enjoy the movie. More a series of sketch-like links to various music pieces written and performed by The Lonely Island than an actual proper film, this nevertheless manages to keep the pace up for its spot on 87 minute running time.

What it lacks in Spinal Tap style absurdity and characterisation, it more than makes up for in superbly off the wall lyrics and an almost unfathomable number of jabs at modern celebrity. Not a genre that’s begging for new entries particularly but even in a well stocked field, Samberg and co. manage to stay fresh and relevant. These are clearly boys who have spent a good number of years acting out these roles and the effortless chemistry between them is very clear on the screen.

But this is very much the Samberg show. His Conner is a superb creation, a child let loose in a toy factory and told there are no rules. Resplendent in innumerable tattoos and clothing that I can only assume would normally be worn by a rapper, Conner is a mess but never utterly objectionable, thanks mainly to Samberg's easy style.  

Taccone and Schaffer (also on directing duty) are pretty much just the fall guys, the only tangible link to Conner’s more grounded past, in many instances just filling the awkward staring role that we see so often in this mockumentary format. That’s not to say they don't have their moments, Owen’s forced DJ hat is gut-bustlingly funny and Lawrence’s wood whittling is a gag that keeps on giving, it’s just that none are particularly well developed characters beyond their gag requirements.

But, when you add in a bucket load of cameos, most of which land squarely on funny, it’s difficult to get too caught up in wondering how much better this could have been if some of Tap’s depth had been added. Of the supporting cast, Sarah Silverman is perfectly cast as the band’s long suffering but ruthless publicist and Chris Meadows is likeable as the band’s long-term manager. The celebs acquit themselves well, Pink is great value in her duet with Conner and Mariah Carey’s deadpan turn is a revelation.

But it’s the songs that really stand out here. Weaving in Conner’s weird-ass world view whilst at times making absolutely and deliberately no sense, The Lonely Island boys know exactly what they are doing here. Titles like “I’m So Humble”, “Equal Rights” (essentially calling for the equal marriage rights already afforded to same sex couples) and “Turn Up The Beef” give you some idea of where we’re going here. Michael Bolton even rocks up for a terrific finale performance of “Incredible Thoughts’ (featuring long standing TLI contributor Justin Timberlake dressed as a fish).

In Short:

Pretty much as stated above, if you enjoy I’m on a Boat, this movie will go down a storm with you. If you’re twenty years younger than me and even remotely cognisant of any contemporary US music scene at all, I suspect you’ll have an absolute ball with Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping.

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