In the late ’70s, music began to lose its sense of self. Concerts became shows, artists became entertainers and poetry became rhymes. The raw, imperfect nature of rock ‘n’ roll was artificially polished by computers—who needs a drummer when you have a drum machine? No longer could a band merely walk up on a stage and perform —there had to be clown makeup, LED lights and a lot of hair conditioner. Rob Reiner’s “This is Spinal Tap” caught this degradation of music in its infancy and shrewdly skewered it. “Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping” takes aim at the same degradation, which has only ballooned over time.
The mockumentary follows the ups and down of Connor—known to his fans as Connor4Real, formerly of The Style Boyz. Connor is a world famous popstar, and as such, he’s a vapid bimbo whose only real friend is a terminally-ill turtle. His songs range from the topical “Equal Rights” to the anthem of a generation, “I’m So Humble.” But Connor’s fame soon fades and he is replaced by the “next big thing,” Hunter the Hungry, a slightly unhinged rapper who matches Connor in stupidity but has him trumped in, uh, recentness. Connor must harness the power of friendship if he is to recapture his hollow celebrity.
This film takes the machine-gun approach to comedy, spraying its target and banking on at least a few hits; in that respect, it succeeds. The jabs at the music industry and celebrity culture are many, and more than a few are winners. Connor has two separate umbrella holders on his payroll—one for rain and another for sun. If he makes a mistake and loses the public’s adoration, Connor has a ready fail-safe: take an ugly teenager to prom. Upon making a deal with a kitchen appliance company to play his music whenever someone opens their oven, Connor explains that if you don’t sell out, people will think nobody asked you to. To pick from the lowest hanging of all observational fruit, “it’s funny because it’s true.”
But for what is essentially a 90-minute roast of modern music culture, the film’s comedic punches often feel pulled—like a Don Rickles bit, but only with the apology part. With a subject matter this ripe for mockery, I would have rather seen a more predatory approach than this playful ribbing. Like Connor selling out with the kitchen appliances, this films sells out with its celebrity cameos. The mere inclusion of people like Mariah Carey and Justin Timberlake—whom the movie’s making fun of, but we’re supposed to walk out liking more, because they’re able to make fun of themselves—ends up neutering the movie.
As comes with machine-gun comedy, there are a lot of misses. But the dull jokes go by so quick, they don’t break the pace; and there’s usually a winner around the corner anyway. That said, there are a few patches of comedic white noise, during which the characters go from humorously annoying to infuriatingly annoying.
Performances in a film such as this are unimportant, as the actors are essentially just vessels for gags. Andy Samberg’s Connor is a caricature, and a fun one at that—Samberg has mastered the face of a befuddled idiot. With all of the comedians weaved in and out of the film, it’s nearly impossible for anyone to stand out. I did quite enjoy Bill Hader as Connor’s roadie, though—a man cursed to haul instruments from venue to venue for an act that only utilizes a microphone and an iPod.
Perhaps the film’s greatest accomplishment is the craving it gave me to go home and pop in Led Zeppelin. That’s worth something.
2.5 out of 5