Popstar: Samberg Rocks the House
At first glance, Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping might appear to be one of those “Saturday Night Live” sketches expanded to feature length, which has previously yielded such big-screen losers as Coneheads (1993), Stuart Saves His Family (‘95), A Night at the Roxbury (‘98) and Superstar (‘99).
Well, look again, for Popstar is a surprise summer treat, a legitimately funny, smart send-up of pop culture and rap culture, with Andy Samberg front and center as “Conner 4Real,” a self-absorbed hip-hop superstar whose rise, fall and inevitable resurgence are covered in this mock documentary written and produced by Samberg and long-time collaborators Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone, the latter pair also co-directing.
If Samberg, Schaffer and Taccone have worshiped at the altar of Rob Reiner’s classic This is Spinal Tap (1983), they’re certainly borrowing from the best. The also demonstrate that they’re completely in step (no pun intended) with recent and vintage music trends. The Beastie Boys, Backstreet Boys, New Kids on the Block, Justin Bieber, One Direction – all are spoofed in one way or the other. If Conner4Real were real, he’d be right at home on MTV.
Furthering this notion is the ongoing parade of actual music luminaries – Ringo Starr, Pharrell Williams, 50 Cent, Usher, Usher, Nas, et al – who are interviewed about Conner’s impact on the industry, and whose opinions are rendered in a straight-faced fashion that stays funny throughout.
We join perennial bad-boy and perpetual bonehead Conner on tour, promoting his latest solo album (“ConnQuest”), as he reflects on his meteoric career, having first achieved fame as a member of the late-’80s boy band the Style Boyz, until his arrogance and greed got in the way.
Bandmate Owen (Taccone) remains loyal to Conner, even when relegated to wearing what amounts to a huge hi-tech box over his head during live concerts, while the less-forgiving Lawrence (Schaffer) has forsaken show-biz entirely and now lives in seclusion on a farm.
Throughout, Samberg comfortably cedes center stage to his co-stars, allowing them to shine in roles both large and small. A number of fellow “SNL” graduates join in the fun, including Maya Rudolph, Bill Hader, Kevin Nealon, and Tim Meadows, especially good as Conner’s long-suffering manager, whose own aspirations as a performer were dashed in yet another amusing aside. Also on hand: Sarah Silverman, Imogen Poots, Joan Cusack, Will Arnett, James Buckley, and Chris Redd, in a sharp and showy screen debut as up-and-coming rapper Hunter, whose star eclipses Conner’s soon enough.
We’re also treated to a number of rap tunes that scarcely sound different than what’s airing these days, but many featuring inspired twists and riffs. “I’m So Humble,” “Things in My Jeep,” “Donkey Roll” and “Incredible Thoughts” are among the more memorable, and “Finest Girl” (also known as the “Bin Laden Song”) warrants serious Oscar consideration as Best Song – if only because the idea of it being performed at the Academy Awards would certainly shake things up.
If a joke in Popstar falls flat – and a few do – Samberg, Schaffer and Taccone have already moved on to the next one. Popstar runs under 90 minutes and there’s nary a wasted moment. It stays fast and light on its feet, and hits the target far more often than not. !