6/02/2016

Review: The Lonely Island's 'Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping'


When we exist in a world that has the inflated ego of Kanye West in it, parodying the music industry is a tough sell. The best way to go about it is exactly how SNL sketch veterans Lonely Island do it in their brilliant if slightly uneven mockumentary, Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping, and that's to go as full-on absurd as possible. Tapping into the same goofy non sequitur-fueled style that produced viral hits like "Dick in a Box", "I Just Had Sex", and "I'm on a Boat", the trio don't stray far from what they do best or the tropes of a genre that produced This is SpinalTap, Walk Hard, and Fear of a Black Hat.

Overcoming the hurdle of extending what is essentially a 2-minute sketch into a full length film are the dynamic trio of Andy Samberg, Jorma Taccone, and Akiva Schaffer, who fill the 86-minute runtime with loads of new ridiculous songs to put on repeat. They're all part of a story that sees Samberg as arrogant rapper Conner Friel aka Conner4Real, who is about to drop his highly-anticipated second album, the egotistically-titled "Connquest". But he's about to get hit with the mother of all sophomore slumps, one that he can't figure the cause of. The answer is so obvious even Conner's dumbass should be able to latch on to it. He was the breakout of a popular Beastie Boys or Young Black Teenagers-esque group known as the Style Boyz alongside his childhood friends DJ Owen (Taccone) and songwriter Lawrence (Schaffer and Taccone also co-directed).   

Conner blew up, and so did his first album as a result, but then he started pushing his pals to the background. A dispute over credit caused Lawrence to leave the group and become a goat farmer out in the middle of nowhere, while Owen became Conner's DJ, doing like most DJs nowadays which is doing everything off an IPod. The turntables are just for show.  The reviews for "Connquest" are terrible, most especially from Rolling Stone who literally give it their crappiest score ever.  "We'll call it mixed reviews", the dim-witted Conner responds.

Clearly biting off the recent glut of self-serving documentaries from Justin Bieber, Katy Perry, and others, the film chart's Conner's crashing downfall. Some of the biggest laughs come from the wealth of guest stars from within the industry, all being interviewed about how amazing Conner is. Legendary rapper Nas is particularly susceptible to having his life altered by a Conner track, it seems, while Mariah Carey really relates to his song "I'm so Humble", because obviously.  But even they can't defend his second album which features mind-numbing yet hilarious songs about equal rights (in which Conner insists he's no gay throughout), another that trashes Mona Lisa, and one that makes an ill-advised long song out of killing Osama Bin Laden. Meanwhile, the tour isn't selling out, not even with Owen being forced to wear a gigantic Daft Punk-sized helmet. So they turn to brazen up 'n coming rapper Hunter the Hungry (Chris Redd) as an opening act, which instantly causes further rifts. 

The laughs are pretty consistent throughout the first half as Lonely Island's ability to craft insanely catchy songs out of bizarre subject matter is given the spotlight. There isn't any more insight into the music biz than you got out of Josie andthe Pussycats fifteen years ago (How old do you feel right now?), but it's funny to see how little has changed since then. Only then, the evil corporate masterminds were using hidden signals as a form of product distribution, while Conner goes one step further by having his music automatically uploaded to every appliance around the world. Think about how awful that would be the next time ITunes puts some random artist's album in your playlist. It could be so much worse!

Of course, we know the path the film eventually has to take. Conner needs to go back to his roots and reconcile with his bros, and it's when the film takes this expected route that it loses steam. The petty grievances that broke up the group come to the forefront, and while they aren't fully explored we get enough to know where each Style Boyz's head is at. Fortunately the emotional payoff proves to be worth it, because everybody loves to see a great band's reunion, right? Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping has a few skips in the album, but it's funny and witty enough to be a comic chart-topper this summer season. 

Rating: 3.5 out of 5