Magazine article Variety

Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping

Magazine article Variety

Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping

Article excerpt

Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping

FILM REVIEW

Directors: Akiva Schaffer, Jorma Taccone

Starring: Andy Sambarg, Jorma Taccone, Akiva Schaffer

If Andy Samberg were still on "Saturday Night Live," it wouldn't be too hard to imagine Conner 4 Real, the cluelessly self-confident idiot white-boy rapper he plays in "Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping," as the featured playa in one of his SNL Digital Shorts. Conner has tattoos running down his arms, and he sports a diamond earring, gold chains, and a hiphop haircut so unthreatening it looks like it should be called the Ivy League Fade. A middle-class poseur who knows that he's a sellout but pretends he's a gangsta, Conner is straight outta Sacramento, and his success is a product of pure marketing. Yet all his trademarks - the baggy clothes and obscene lyrics, the palmsdown "inner city" hand gestures - are signifiers of his authenticity.

If Samberg had sprung this character on us back in the day (as Conner himself might put it), he would probably have created an instant video classic to place alongside "Lazy Sunday" and "Dick in a Box." At the very least, he could have ruled YouTube for a week or so. But let's pretend that he made that Digital Short, and that it went viral, and that it became enough of a conversation piece to be spun off into its own big-screen mockumentary, and that the film - like almost every other "SNL" spin-off - turned out to be a terrific sketch inflated into a movie that overstays its welcome. "Popstar" is that movie. It longs to be a close-to-the-bone lampoon in the scathing spirit of Christopher Guest, but it's really a lightweight one-joke comedy.

The best thing about the movie is that Conner 4 Real, in 2016, comes off as not really all that farfetched a star. He grew up performing with his two buddies, Owen (Jorma Taccone) and Lawrence (Akiva Schaffer), and they became a teenage pop-rap trio called Style Boyz - a kind of high-gloss version of the Beastie Boys, or maybe NSYNC with less harmony and more (nasty) rhymes. Part of the film's observational slyness is its perception that hip-hop, at a certain point, became an entirely co-opted form: a pantomime of toughness for soft, safe suburban kids. Style Boyz, at least, are honest appropriators, but "Popstar" is about what happens when Conner breaks off from the group to pursue a solo career as a prefab icon of sexed-up danger. Written, directed, and produced by Samberg and his long-time partners, Taccone and Schaffer, the movie has a jaunty good time skewering the whorish showbiz media kaleidoscope - the tabloids, the corporate tie-ins, TMZ - but its satire of youth stardom is a little skin-deep.

Once he becomes Conner 4 Real, Conner is a crossover king who's like Vanilla Ice with more convoluted fake street cred. But damned if the entire world doesn't love him. "Popstar" is overflowing with real-life rappers and other entertainers, all playing themselves, who appear in interview snippets to testify to Conner's badassery. They include Nas, 50 Cent, Questlove, Mariah Carey, Pharrell Williams, Ringo Starr, and even the eternally hard-to-please Simon Cowell.

The point of all these cameos is to create a texture of reality, but since most of the comments lack bite, the parade of celebrity comes off as an advertisement of Samberg's superstar friends. There are even more of them in character roles: the usual gang of "SNL" alums (Maya Rudolph, Bill Hader, Tim Meadows), plus Justin Timberlake, Sarah Silverman, Adam Levine, and Seal. The movie isn't just star-packed - it's a little top-heavy. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.