Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping and all the images you see in this review are owned by Universal Pictures
Directed by Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone
Weird Al got a movie, Oingo Boingo got a movie, and now The Lonely Island have one. I’m sure you can point to ten awful musician movies for every good one, but there are some all-out classics in that very strange sub genre. The aforementioned UHF is a lot of fun, Forbidden Zone is an absolute classic, hell, let’s go ahead and throw in The Blues Brothers and Walk Hard: The Dewy Cox story while we’re at it! True, the musicians in question for those movies are known more for their comedies than their music, but you can pretty much say the same thing about The Lonely Island! Does this mockumentary into the absurd world of pop stardom turn out to be the perfect update to the Spinal Tap formula, or are these guys not up to the task of stretching their material out for an entire movie? Let’s find out!!
The movie is presented to us as an documentary into the life of Conner 4 Real (Andy Samberg) whose debut solo album (Thriller, Also) was a record smashing hit and launched him into super stardom after he left The Lonely Island… I mean The Style Boyz. We start the movie on the eve of the release of his second album which has a pretty amazing title (CONNquest) but it turns out to be a finical and critical flop. From then on, we follow Conner as he tries more and more desperate moves to salvage the fledgling album and boost his ticket sales while also coming to terms that he may not be as good as he thinks he is (or at least as good as his Yes Men tell him he is). Along with him on this journey is his DJ Own (Jorma Taccone) who was one of The Style Boyz back in the day, his manager Harry (Tim Meadows) who’s trying to juggle Conner’s insane ego with his duties of keeping their empire afloat, and many others who make up the eclectic group of misfits that Conner surrounds himself with. Can he manage to find his creative spirit once again and come back stronger than ever, or will he hit rock bottom as he slowly begins to isolate those who are trying to help him. Oh who am I kidding? It will probably be both!
This movie annoyed me a lot because the potential is there for something great, but it is never realized to its fullest. If they had settled on a tone or wasn’t trying to be so irreverent, then the mockumentary style would have worked as it did in This Is Spinal Tap (the movie this is clearly trying to emulate), but the script they ended up writing for this movie makes the way they’re telling this story feel like a gimmick at best and doesn’t integrate itself well with the movie’s narrative. It has all the hallmarks of a sketch comedy group movie which isn’t TOO inaccurate for The Lonely Island if you think of music videos as sketches, and the resulting movie is unfortunately what you would expect from that.
The biggest problem is the narrative itself which can’t decide how exaggerated it wants to be and whether or not we’re supposed to care about Connor. Sometimes we’re supposed to believe he’s a musical genius and that people love his music as the first ten minutes are all about him being a gifted t a young age and about his first album being so influential. No wait, are we ACTUALLY supposed to think he sucks and that the world is full of idiots? Is all the adulation he gets supposed to be ironic? Okay wait, his second album flops and everybody hates it, but now I’m confused because I can’t tell the difference between these new songs and the ones he had on the previous album. Hell, I LIKE the new songs on this album despite the movie’s insistence that CONNquest is as bad as an eighties Stones album. You’re telling me the world that accepted Donkey Roll couldn’t appreciate Finest Girl which is basically a song about fucking a woman as hard as we fucked up Bin Laden!? It’s just a weird premise to work off of that we’re following someone who’s career is going downhill because he’s a talentless hack, but then a good chunk of the movie are the catchy and fun songs from that supposedly awful album.
Now a muddled narrative in a world that isn’t fully defined (or makes much sense) can be excused if the jokes are up to the task. For me though (and this is where reviewing comedies can be a total pain), they just aren’t. Too much of this movie is about beating premises into the ground, awkward conversations, and dick jokes. OH BOY! JOKES ABOUT DICKS! There’s a part where Connor has a wardrobe malfunction on stage, and it turns out he has to tuck his dick back so the costume changes will work. I’m not sure WHY that’s the case (couldn’t he wear a skin tight speedo and get the same result?) but the whole point of this is to spend ten minutes talking about how he looked like a girl and how the world starts questioning if he even has a penis. Is that supposed to be funny? I just sat there like a big spoil sport thinking about how juvenile the whole bit is which I guess is the whole freaking point. This isn’t for those fuddy-duddies who don’t snicker at the sight of a penis! This is for those who’ll get uproarious laughter at the scene where Conner has to begrudgingly autograph a penis because they’re so gross you guys! EWW!! If he touched it, he might turn gay or something! It’s like I’m back in Elementary School when there was such a thing as the Gay Toilet, and even THEN I knew that was the stupidest thing imaginable.
Crotch humor aside, it just feels like the first pass at a script rather than the final product as the jokes don’t feel finished or polished. The actors are doing all that they can with the material given, but they just don’t have much to work with considering how weak the material is. There’s not enough setup for the payoffs to have much bite (the worst example being the wolf attack) and a lot of the throwaway jokes just take you out of the experience. Rolling Stone gave his album a poop emoji? They didn’t just give it zero stars? So because we had to have a poop emoji joke, we are in a world where not even Rolling Stone is a grounding element; instead opting to do something that Rolling Stone has NEVER done and is now unrecognizable as something we would see in the real world. It’s stuff like that throughout the film where we’re taken out of the story and made hyper aware of how this is all just a movie which is the exact OPPOSITE reaction you would want in a mokumentary movie.
Not everything in here is bad though. The songs are very solid as most Lonely Island songs are. They may not be my cup of tea exactly, but I can appreciate classics like Threw It On The Ground or Dick In A Box, and they continue to impress here with some catchy pop tunes that have more humor in them than anything else in the movie; especially the debut single from CONNquest called Equal Rights which is a scathing (and hilarious) take down of Macklemore’s Same Love. The acting is fine with a lot of solid performances from the likes of Tim Meadows, Sarah Silverman, and The Lonely Island, as well as the celebrity cameos which are enjoyable for the most part. There are two actors though that stand out the most in here, and they are Will Arnett as at the head of a TMZ knockoff (CMZ), and Chris Red as the rap artist Hunter the Hungry brought onto the tour as an opening act to fill out the seats that aren’t getting sold on Conner’s name alone. Will Arnett is made for roles like this where he’s a smarmy asshole and all the CMZ scenes are consistently funny, even though The Nostalgia Critic already did this material like two years ago. Chris Red on the other hand is not only hilarious, he makes a star turning performance here and the movie might have been a lot better if it was about THIS dude instead of Conner 4 Real. I’m not a fan of how his story ends (it’s a cliché ending for the archetype he plays… except I wasn’t even aware he WAS that archetype until the end), but he makes the most out of every scene he’s in and steals the movie away from Andy Samberg whenever they’re on screen together.
The sad fact is that there’s just not enough going on here to fill out the full ninety of a feature film. There COULD have been, but no one seemed to want to put enough effort into the story or of the comedy in between the songs. The connective tissue isn’t there to make this a proper feature and it ends up dragging interminably as we wait for the next song or the next decent joke to pop up. We already got a much better version of this movie with Spinal Tap over thirty years ago, so I would suggest you go see that rather than this movie. Maybe this is worth watching once it hits home release, but then again the best scenes are probably gonna be up on YouTube as soon as it does which is where The Lonely Island work best.
If you like this review and plan on buying the movie, then use the Amazon link below! I’ll get a percentage of the order it helps keep things going for me here at The Reviewers Unite! In fact, you don’t even need to buy the item listed! Just use the link, shop normally, and when you check out it will still give us that sweet, sweet, percentage! You can even bookmark the link and use it every time you shop! HOW AWESOME IS THAT!?