By way of musical mockumentary, Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping delivers hilarity, stupidity, and a whole lot of other expected “-ity’s.” This is textbook SNL-alumn scripting. Direct parallels are drawn to Jon M. Chu’s Justin Bieber: Never Say Never, The Lonely Island drops some raunchy new material, and celebrity cameos fight for top-billing. We’re talking about a movie that – in one moment – captures a fish-costume-wearing Justin Timberlake shredding guitar riffs while Tim Meadows plays saxophone and Michael Bolton backs up Andy Samberg (who is rapping about his silly thoughts). Take that comment for EXACTLY what it is, and prepare for The Lonely Island’s latest bit of glorious absurdity.
Andy Samberg stars as Conner4Real, a pop sensation who found tremendous solo success after his original band, the Style Boyz, parted ways. With bandmate Lawrence (Akiva Schaffer) gone, Conner and his DJ, Owen (Jorma Taccone), tear up the airwaves with songs like “I’m So Humble” and “Mona Lisa.” But after his second record bombs miserably, Conner4Real finds himself struggling with ego, competition, and negative reviews (resulting in a destructive self-implosion). Luckily, a documentary crew is there to record Conner’s downfall through every step, good or bad – which, for our entertainment, focuses mostly on the “bad.”
Coming from someone who owns Incredibad, Turtleneck & Chain, and The Wack Album, I can confirm that Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping is a glorious return for the Lonely Island trio. Tracks like “Finest Girl (Bin Laden Song),” “Things In My Jeep [ft. Linkin Park],” and “Equal Rights [ft. P!nk]” once again showcase their dangerously topical, no-holds-barred style without ever offending or backing down. Actual lyrics: “She wanted to f$#k me harder than the U.S. Government f@&ked Bin Laden,” or “You’re harboring a fugitive (That ass!), and my justice will be punitive (I’ma smash!).” I mean, “Seal team 69, sexecuting the hit!” – GOLDEN. And that’s just from one song about a kinky girl with an Osama Bin Laden death fetish. The Lonely boys are back with an arsenal of smoking lyrical guns, ready to redefine the production tour spectacle starting with well-written (totally not serious) hits.
Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping walks a fine line between dead-air jokes and outrageous gags, which is to be expected given its creators (you’ve seen Hot Rod, SNL, MacGruber, and the rest). Samberg’s Conner is nothing but a Bieber clone, right down to his stage choreography and personality complex. This means numerous immature tantrums and ridiculous outbursts, which are funnier more than they’re not – but misfires still exist. Think of Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping as a more sensible Sacha Baron Cohen production, where some weak moments inevitably reach for the lowest-hanging laugh.
It’s just less desperate, and more enjoyably crude.
Andy Samberg may be the star of this chaotic meltdown, but Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping is highlighted by too many “WTF” cameos to count. Most notably, TMZ (CMZ) is gloriously lampooned by Will Arnett, Eric André, Chelsea Peretti, and Mike Birbiglia in a recurring skit that needs its own half-hour Adult Swim slot. I could write a 100-page dissertation on the comedic perfection present in each comedian’s portrayal (Andre’s long-take laughing fit, Arnett’s obsession with water cups) – a true laugh-until-you-cry segment.
Additionally, you’ll spy a quick “Weird Al” Yankovic appearance, Seal being a badass, D.J. Khaled’s wisdom, Joan Cusack at her least maternal and a hologram of Adam Levine grinding against another hologram of Adam Levine – this is an entire movie built around celebrities having fun. And it shows. I mean, can you really go wrong with a Snoop Dogg surprise?
Concerning the major characters, there’s a surprising stand-out among Conner’s crew – Chris Redd playing a pre-Kardashian Kanye-like rapper named Hunter (Hunter The Hungry). Not only can this kid rap, but given a stage, he could start a revolution on performance charisma alone. Redd’s material (or delivery, at least) is raw, dirty, and downright vicious, which is only made better by his abusive “pranking” backstage. Playing the arc of Conner’s friend-turned-rival, Redd’s fire-spitting warrior ends up leaving an impression that might actually surpass the Style Boyz and Conner4Real.
That said, Andy Samberg still steals most scenes with Conner4Real’s cocky, stupendously ill-prepared persona. Given the many characters Samberg has toyed with over the years, Conner melds a collection of the comedian’s best on-camera traits – being spoiled, entitled, and completely out-of-touch. Whether he’s autographing naked fans (an awkwardly drawn-out gag involving a male fan elicits cringe-worthy humor) or angrily chasing cameramen with a steel sword, Samberg is confident in his characterizations, therefore strengthening Conner’s doe-eyed buffoonery.
Conner’s closest friends aren’t forgotten, but find themselves overshadowed by Samberg and their cameo counterparts. Jorma Taccone pokes fun at the easy-going job of being a button-pushing DJ (OK, this works), while Akiva Shaffer’s distant, rightfully spiteful ex-bandmate merely fits the “disregarded friend” mold (a more boring path). Unfortunately, the weakest bits of Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping surface when the Style Boyz engage in dramatics, as a rift is torn merely to explore a stereotypical “Behind The Music” feel (without emotion).
Then again, you’re going to laugh. Plain and simple. With so many small-bite jokes scattered throughout this “inspirational” story, even the ones you despise most will be forgotten after Conner’s next (immediate) blunder. Scenes cycle through different props and angles at a rapid pace, so you’re never waiting long for another punchline. Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping roasts all the right people, calls upon all-star cameos, and delivers expected amounts of this-is-too-dumb-not-to-laugh-at comedy worth every deafening bass drop.
If I can spit truth at you for a moment, Conner4Real be tha’ dopest, most swaggadocious baller in the game makin’ Patrick Stewart Money!
Or, translation: “Sorry Justin Bieber – you had this coming.”
While The Lonely Island's brand of humor isn't exactly high-class, I never stopped laughing throughout Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping.