This Popstar is tone deaf.
R for some graphic nudity, language throughout, sexual content and drug use
Some movies enjoy a certain amount of post-viewing appreciation. They settle in a little more fondly as thoughts revisit the experience.
Not so with Popstar. In fact, it becomes more and more disheartening. It’s a music satire/mockumentary-wannabe that fails to match the sweet spot of the utterly listenable — and equally utterly silly — music of This Is Spinal Tap or even Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story.
The heart sinks further as the background of the perps is revealed.
For the uninitiated, The Lonely Island, performing within Popstar as the Style Boyz, is a real pop satire trio (college friends Andy Samberg, Jorma Taccone and Akiva Schaffer). They’ve made waves on Saturday Night Live and they have a few albums to their credit.
Their ability to attract top-shelf collaborators is impressive. Guest artists include Justin Timberlake, Rihanna, Michael Bolton, Norah Jones and even Natalie Portman. But enjoying their music — or their comedy; the two are muddled together — is a matter of taste.
Not So Awesome!!!
The Lonely Island’s music has a following. I Just Had Sex has been played 57,971,571 times (and counting) on Spotify. By comparison, their seemingly ubiquitous anthem, Everything Is AWESOME!!! (yeah, from The Lego Movie), has a mere 10,245,352 plays. Their viral video sensation from Saturday Night Live, Dick in a Box, has been viewed nearly 3 million times across a couple different channels on YouTube.
It’s the kind of popularity that allows for favor-calling from fellow SNL alumni such as Tim Meadows, Maya Rudolph, Sarah Silverman and Bill Hader. And this movie’s lineup of cameos from the worlds of music and entertainment is mighty remarkable: Questlove, Carrie Underwood, Nas, 50 Cent, Simon Cowell, Mariah Carey, Arcade Fire, RZA, Snoop Dogg, Will Arnett, Jimmy Fallon, Michael Bolton, Pink, Adam Levine, Martin Sheen, D.J. Khaled, Pharrell Williams and Justin Timberlake.
J.T. might very well be the brightest spot in this big-screen mess. He plays a timid, bespectacled chef while a lot of the other luminaries make appearances in mock interview scenarios wherein they discuss the monumental influence the Style Boyz played in their lives.
The Lonely Island has a built-in fan base to call upon to attend their big-screen antics. Unfortunately, there’s nothing particularly fresh in this story of a boy band that reaches the heights of popularity and implodes (with one member going off to Big Timber, Colo., to start a pot plantation), followed by the launch of a solo career for the lead singer, Conner (Samberg, Brooklyn Nine-Nine on Fox), and his own stellar rise and fall.
Conner’s first solo album sold 4 million copies. Nowadays, in the digital age of music streaming, that’s a decent number. But his follow-up sells a paltry 65,000 copies in its first week of release. The sophomore album is hampered by pathetic reviews — given a 4/10 on Pitchfork and branded with a steaming poop emoji in Rolling Stone. The bright spot? It gets a rave in The Onion.
Poor Conner is too stupid to know that ain’t a good thing.
And that’s the problem. The characters are stupid. Not Zoolander stupid (it takes smarts to be that stupid — seriously). This is stupid stupid. Unsympathetic and mostly unfunny.
Popstar as a movie-going experience is at times insufferable. It spends too much time focusing on the crass, low-hanging fruit of “Explicit”-labeled lyrics instead of mining the treasure trove of material to be found in today’s bubble-gum pop, boy bands and, yes, that crass “explicit” element.
On occasion, there are some laughs. There’s a funny bit lampooning the semi-salacious TMZ, but they go to that well too often and for too long. Some of the cameo bits are funny, particularly Mariah Carey (at this point more plastic than flesh and blood) talking about how I’m So Humble resonates with her.
Too often, though, the Style Boyz hits sound an awful lot like the bombs found on Conner’s second solo album. They’re indistinguishably bad, each one serving as the next song’s benchmark for bad taste. For example, if a song about your girlfriend wanting to get “it” like the U.S. did it to Osama Bin Laden sounds like it’s up your alley, this movie might make your day.
Instead of providing a quintessential digital-age update on the classic Spinal Tap, the bulk of the movie’s jokes fall flat. There’s a silly sponsorship by an appliance manufacturer wherein Conner’s new album is pre-loaded on refrigerators and other housewares. It creates a national power outage and all sorts of privacy concerns are raised. (Surely this isn’t a dig at U2 offering free downloads of Songs of Innocence on Apple devices. Come on now.)
The closest thing to a Spinal Tap moment is an epic wardrobe malfunction that is stupid. Not smart stupid, like Derek Zoolander, just stupid stupid.
The end game here is a so-so parody best suited for a lazy Netflix night. Take it 5 minutes at a time, like an SNL skit.