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Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping review: crude and crass
August 23, 2016
Midway through Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping Andy Samberg’s global superstar Conner4Real is on a Europe-wide tour to promote his atrocious new album when he makes a stop at the Anne Frank house in Amsterdam. Here, he drops the kids off at the pool in a bathroom which is part of the exhibition before quoting Ace Ventura.
For every joke that lands, and there are many, in this purposefully crass send-up of the pretentions, superficiality, and capitalist greed of the contemporary music industry, there is another that thunderously faceplants a long way off base (see above). It’s one thing to come up with a four minute YouTube video of Michael Bolton singing on a beach, or even an extended Saturday Night Live skit, but to sustain interest for a feature length film is another matter entirely.
To call Popstar satire would be generous given its total lack of subtlety and the easy targets it picks, but like the 100 different producers that contribute to crafting Conner’s 17-track album CONNquest, there’s a lot of wheat and even more chaff in this simultaneously torrid, hilarious affair. A collaboration of both script and performance by SNL regulars Samberg, Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone – the latter two also taking on directorial duties – along with Trainwreck director Judd Apatow on production, this rock-mockumentary has its moments. Brash, bold, and at times sidesplittingly funny, it ends up as vacuous as those sycophantic fan boys, girls, and social media warriors that it attempts to demean, as well as the clueless idols they choose to worship.
Inasmuch as there is a plot, Popstar tells the tale of Conner4Real after his split from old school hip-hop trio Style Boyz, formed a long time previously with childhood buddies Owen (Taccone) and Lawrence (Schaffer). Owen still tours with Conner as his ‘DJ’ – which involves clicking play on an iPod – but Lawrence has taken to the hills to be a farmer and whittle wood. Will Conner’s ego get in the way of his past friendships or will he reunite with them to rediscover past glories after falling on hard times? Not enough is done for us to really care what happens as Popstar plays out as a bullet-pointed list of gags more than a story.
The sincere adulation proffered by Usher, 50 Cent, Nas, Ringo Starr, and literally dozens of others in talking head interviews is genuinely hilarious to begin with but it soon becomes a case of “Oh, look – there’s so and so,” a one-liner, and nothing more. Sarah Silverman does as much as she can with limited material as Conner’s PR and it’s only Tim Meadows as band manager Harry who leaves even the slightest trace of an impression, a wise old hand who’s been there, done that, and got the T-shirt on more than one occasion. Haters are gonna hate on Popstar, and others will love it as a passing, expletive-laden distraction from actual cinema. It could have been a lot more; too bad it’s so swiftly and easily forgotten.
Words by Matthew Anderson