It’s hard to believe that it’s been 11 years since the Lonely Island became a viral sensation with their spoof song Lazy Sunday. The trio of Andy Samburg, Jorma Taccone and Akiva Schaffer have been mainstays in music ever since, even releasing three full-length albums. With Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping, The Lonely Island has moved from spoofing songs to the entire music industry.
Samberg stars as Conner4Real, a thinly-veiled knockoff of Justin Bieber and several other popstars of the modern era. The former member of the white rap group Style Boyz (which was filled out by Taccone and Schaffer), Conner has moved into a solo career and is prepping a tour to support the release of his second album. Popstar is the faux documentary that captures the entire thing.
Much like their Saturday Night Live digital shorts, Popstar is chock full of cameos from both the music industry (Justin Timberlake, Seal, Adam Levine) and SNL (Bill Hader, Maya Rudolph, Will Forte), but with an 86 minute run time, some of them – especially Joan Cusack as Conner’s mother, who does little more than snort cocaine with a young girl – feel like they had entire subplots cut out of the film.
There’s plenty of original Lonely Island music in Popstar, and while some, like Finest Girl are awfully entertaining, none of the songs reach the heights of Lazy Sunday, D–k in a Box or I’m on a Boat. To be fair, those are modern comedy classics, so that’s asking a lot.
Popstar never quite captures the manic energy of their previous feature, the cult classic Hot Rod, but it’s some of the most polished and mainstream work the Lonely Island has done. That’s not to say Samburg & Co. have watered down Popstar to appeal to the four quadrants; the trio have just gotten better at crafting a narrative that doesn’t bounce from joke to joke. The catch is Popstar’s narrative borrows heavily from the standard-bearer for musical mockumentaries, This is Spinal Tap.
The biggest laughs come when Popstar elevates itself beyond adherence to Spinal Tap’s plot and makes it own statement on the ridiculous world of pop music. Whether it’s wardrobe changes mid-concert, social media, or making the DJ wear a mask that can mimic the sound of alien destroyers from Steven Spielberg’s War of the Worlds, when Popstar does its own thing, its one of the funniest comedies of the year.