'Popstar': Funny but thin satire of Bieberesque celebrity culture

20160603_popstar_samberg_3x2
Her? She's just a dancer: Andy Samberg as a Bieberesque superstar in "Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping."

Conner4Real, played by Saturday Night Live alum Andy Samberg, performs many songs in Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping, but my favorite is "Humble," in which the chorus is a repeated, "I'm so humble."

Conner performs the song with humble spelled out in giant letters behind him, and the song includes the refrain, "I say that with no ego!"

Popstar gets to satirize not just music, but also celebrity culture in a way that a movie such as Spinal Tap never could - because, well, the internet and 24-hours news cycle didn't exist in 1984.

But when Popstar has to do more than lampoon the cultural climate - namely, be a movie with a plot - it can't sustain the momentum to keep up what's essentially a one-joke film.

Structured as a mockumentary, Popstar follows Conner, a Justin Bieberesque superstar who's on the verge of releasing his second solo album. He's a white rapper from Sacramento who fakes a hard authenticity by covering himself with tattoos and reveling in his celebrity trappings.

He came to fame as a member of the Style Boyz with his buddies (played by Samberg buddies Jorma Taccone and Akiva Schaffer, who also codirect). Then he slowly alienates them as he strikes out on his own.

The movie is full of cameos of stars playing themselves. Questlove and Ringo Starr act as talking heads in the faux documentary. Pink sings a song with Conner that's a send-up of Macklemore.

The frequency with which these celebs appear and the brevity of their parts could be thought of as a comment on the ephemeral nature of the cultural wash cycle, but they also make for good jokes - and that's really what matters. (Comics Tim Meadows and Sarah Silverman, who play actual characters, are among Popstar's high points.)

Samberg produced Popstar, and he cowrote the script with Taccone and Schaffer. The three also work together as the comedy trio Lonely Island. (Those viral digital shorts that SNL used to produce? Those were by the Lonely Island guys.)

The humor in Popstar fits squarely into their brand, which can be crude, but also winningly funny.

And that's what Popstar is, half the time - purposefully stupid and gleefully silly. (In a review of Conner's second album, for example, Rolling Stone rates it with a poop emoji, while Pitchfork gives the album a minus-4 out of 10.)

But then Conner learns a lesson about the value of friendship and humility, or something akin to that. That's when Popstar stops being fun and starts to feel as thin as it actually is.

meichel@phillynews.com

215-854-5909@mollyeichel


MOVIE REVIEW

Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping

ss1/2 (Out of four stars)

yDirected by Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccona. With Andy Samberg, Akiva Schaffer, Sarah Silverman, Tim Meadows, and Maya Rudolph. Distributed by Universal Pictures.

yRunning time: 1 hours, 26 mins.

yParent's guide: R (language, nudity, drug use).

yPlaying at: Area theaters.


Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping

Directed by Jorma Taccone, Akiva Schaffer. With Maya Rudolph, Andy Samberg, Jorma Taccone, Sarah Silverman, Akiva Schaffer, Joan Cusack, Tim Meadows. Distributed by Universal Pictures.

Parent's guide: R (for some graphic nudity, language throughout, sexual content and drug use).