Wednesday, June 8, 2016


(US - 2016)

Directed by Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone. Written by Andy Samberg, Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone. Cast: Andy Samberg, Jorma Taccone, Akiva Schaffer, Sarah Silverman, Tim Meadows, Maya Rudolph, Imogen Poots, Joan Cusack, Chris Redd, Edgar Blackmon, James Buckley, Justin Timberlake, Emma Stone, Will Arnett, Chelsea Peretti, Mike Birbiglia, Eric Andre, Bill Hader, Kevin Nealon, Paul Scheer, Derek Mears, Will Forte, Weird Al Yankovic. (R, 87 mins)

The music mockumentary is best represented by the 1984 classic THIS IS SPINAL TAP, though even Christopher Guest and Rob Reiner have cited the 1978 TV special THE RUTLES: ALL YOU NEED IS CASH as its primary influence. The tradition continued in later Guest projects like A MIGHTY WIND and in the early '90s rap mockumentaries CB4 and FEAR OF A BLACK HAT. The latest project from the Lonely Island comedy team of former SNL star Andy Samberg, Jorma Taccone, and Akiva Schaffer, the brains behind numerous viral SNL Digital Shorts like "Jizz in My Pants" and "Dick in a Box," takes aim at the current pop music scene and does a mostly nice job of completely roasting it. Inspired mostly by Justin Bieber but with a generous helping of Kanye West included, Connor Friel, aka Connor4Real (Samberg) is a global pop culture phenomenon, a pop star and ubiquitous social media and tabloid presenc, about to drop his second album, Connquest, the long-awaited follow-up to his record-shattering solo debut Thriller, Also. It's the most anticipated album of the decade from the one-time member of the chart-topping rap trio The Style Boyz, whose biggest hit "The Donkey Roll" made them superstars before disbanding at the end of the boy band heyday when Connor's increased popularity started to keep bandmates Owen, aka Kid Contact (Taccone), and Lawrence, aka Kid Brain (Schaffer) relegated to the background. When a guest verse on "Turn up the Beef," a hit single from a Katy Perry-like diva (Emma Stone) helped launch Connor4Real's solo career, Kid Contact stayed with him as his DJ while Kid Brain released a flop solo single and moved to Colorado to live a quiet, anonymous life as a farmer and woodcarver.

Connquest tanks upon its release, which sends Connor4Real's manager Harry (Tim Meadows) and publicist Paula (Sarah Silverman) into panic mode, securing a promotional partnership with appliance behemoth Aquaspin to have Connor4Real's music constantly blaring from all of their wi-fi-compatible products (remember that U2 debacle?). The backlash is so strong that concert attendance dwindles (thanks in no part to insensitive songs like "Ethpania," the inspiration for which came from Connor noticing that "in Spain, people's S's sound like T.H.'s," and "Equal Rights," a pro-LGBT duet with Pink where all of Connor4Real's lyrics aggressively stress that he's not gay), forcing Harry to bring up-and-coming Hunter the Hungry (Chris Redd) onboard as an opening act. Hunter's presence increases the ticket sales, but Connor4Real is on a downward spiral: his televised-live-on-E! engagement to movie star Ashley Wednesday (Imogen Poots) is marred by wolves mauling guest singer Seal; there's a huge fallout over leaked video from the European tour where he takes a dump in the toilet in the Anne Frank house; a wardrobe malfunction during a concert goes viral when it appears he has no penis; someone's cell phone captures him drunk, starting a fight and getting his ass kicked by Martin Sheen in a sports bar; and he's constantly being overshadowed by the increasing popularity of Hunter the Hungry, whose sets start running long and Connor4Real has to face the realization that even though he's the headliner, nobody's there to see him. All the while, Kid Contact starts feeling more and more marginalized and resorts to PARENT TRAP machinations to encourage a Style Boyz reunion.

A balanced combination of spoof, satire, oddball humor (Bill Hader as a roadie who's a FLATLINERS superfan) and grossout raunch (Connor4Real signing one frantic male fan's dick from the back of his limo after the guy drapes his balls over the half-rolled-down window), POPSTAR: NEVER STOP NEVER STOPPING does an admirable job of shredding vacuous pop culture figures, annoying trends (Connor4Real goes on tour with an Adam Levine hologram), blasting the fickleness of a fan base (Connor4Real's "Connfidants"), torching industry greed (Paula: "I don't personally like Connor's music, but it makes so many people so much money!"), and taking some merciless shots at the sycophantic media. The periodic cutaways to the TMZ-like bull sessions of the cackling staff at CMZ, who gleefully revel in every Connor4Real misfortune, are absolutely blistering, with Will Arnett doing an absurd and vicious takedown of Harvey Levin, complete with large straws sticking out of an increasingly ridiculous number of cups, mugs, and pitchers as he asks for the most mundane items of "news" ("Does anyone have a pic of James Franco leaving a Denny's?"). As it becomes obvious that the Style Boyz will set aside their differences and triumphantly reunite, POPSTAR loses its caustic edge and gets a lot nicer. But in the first half, where Samberg boldly plays all of Connor4Real's clueless arrogance and megastar entitlement to the hilt--whether he's enjoying the constant reassurance of his entourage of paid enablers and yes-men or callously ignoring the Kubrick-like levels of care that go into the meticulous meal preparations of his devoted and long-suffering personal chef Tyrus Quash (Justin Timberlake)--it has a scathing mean streak and isn't afraid to take some hard-hitting jabs at the artists, the fans, the vapidity of Twitter, and the ubiquity of idiotic catchphrases ("Doink-de-doink!"). Like the protagonists of THIS IS SPINAL TAP, the Style Boyz might be clueless dolts but they're good guys deep down and it's a big-studio summer comedy, so one can't expect something too subversive. It's not about wanting to have bad things happen to Connor4Real, though a further exploration of the public's love of schadenfreude could've provided some more substance. This is bombing hard in theaters, as did the team's HOT ROD (directed by Schaffer and starring Samberg and Taccone, but written by Pam Brady) and Taccone-directed MACGRUBER, but both of those found cult followings later on Netflix. The same seems likely for the often very funny POPSTAR: NEVER STOP NEVER STOPPING.

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