Director: Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone
Cast: Andy Samberg, Akiva Schaffer, Jorma Taccone
Spoilers Within: Yes
If you’re at all familiar with the comedy stylings of Samberg, Schaffer and Taccone’s musical vehicle The Lonely Island, then you’re already qualified to critic their latest extended sketch project Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping: a loosely scripted, loosely plotted mockumentary that takes multiple jabs at the music industry and social media with varying levels of triumph.
In the universe of Popstar, The Lonely Island are known as The Style Boyz, a trio of childhood pals with differing talents that form the most popular boy band in existence. Much like true-life boy bands like One Direction, the media’s focus on one specific member (Samberg’s Kid Conner) causes a rift in the band, leading to an inevitable, tumultuous breakup. Seeking fame in a solo career Conner’s flop of a second album causes him to go into a tailspin of abysmal live performances, one-upmanship with combative support act Hunter the Hungry, and creative control over remaining Style-Boy-come-iPod-DJ Kid Contact (Taccone). His plunge into self-deprecation for a character whose self-worth and public image is everything is a playful set up, but the team of writers don’t have the satirical prowess or wherewithal to maintain this consistency past the first act.
For a mockumentary populated by the music industry and song, the live performances and music videos are pretty poor, feeling much more like The Lonely Island’s second and third albums than their tastelessly absurd first. A day later, I can’t recall a single verse or chorus, save for their identifiable and doltish titles (ie. ‘Humble’, ‘Mona Lisa’ and ‘The Bin Laden Song’). They’re knowingly shit, which works in the context of Conner’s musical and social incompetence, but in a real-life context that The Lonely Island are an actual, corporeal band, they’re bland, objectionable and largely unfunny. This auditory schtick of eschewing conventional verse by adding weak punchlines and explanations to the songs have become wearisome, which is a problem when the film is primarily reliant on music. At least the on-stage pyrotechnics and holograms somewhat made up for the lyrical lack of chuckles.
The non-musical punchlines are almost as ineffective when delivered through their veil of vulgarity; slapstick sight gags aside (Taccone’s ludicrous Daft Punk-esque helmet becoming more elaborate as it went, or Samberg’s appalling attempt at going incognito were brilliant) the comedy relied on an overabundance of derivative genital humour and literal shit-eating that I’ve grown tired of. There’s a rash of this brand of humour in contemporary comedy that’s seemingly going untreated, and I’m at the point now where I’m generally quite disinterested in it.
Much like this years’ equally sporadic Keanu, Popstar has the feelings of a sketch show spread thinly, amounting to a humorous yet unsurprisingly disappointing series of vignettes hemmed in by a flimsy plot. Some of the targeted digs at the desperate dependence on social media and the triviality of the music industry are funny, but most are a little too tame and unfocused to land successfully. The people that steal the biggest laughs aren’t those in the spotlight, but rather the bit-players: the CMZ reporters howling into their Big Gulps behind a facade of importance, or Conner’s timid chef whose longing for something more than carrot-chopping takes him on an unexpected career change are funnier than the core cast’s pedestrian deliverance of the outlandish.
The film resolves in an entirely expected way after it hits each generic beat of the rise-and-fall comedy format, and though it manages to live up to its own determined silliness, Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping is just as forgettable as the pop music it so persistently ridicules.