Instead, they were too busy angling for cameos.
“Saturday Night Live’s” Lonely Island pranksters deliver a mockumentary that evokes “This Is Spinal Tap.” “Popstar” never reaches that film’s note-for-note perfection. What comedy could?
It’s still a hoot, deconstructing today’s vapid pop stars without mercy.
Andy Samberg is so authentic as an egotistical superstar you’ll expect to see him on E! News or the cover of People magazine. Only you’ll skip the story itself because you know he has nothing to say save some canned promotional banter.
Hey, that’s how modern pop stars roll, right?
Samberg stars as Conner, the former Style Boyz singer gone solo in a big way. He’s got all the superstar accouterment, including a “perspective manipulator.” That’s a short guy who pals around with him to make him appear taller.
Priceless. And there’s much more.
Conner releases a new album to coincide with his latest tour. Only the record isn’t selling like he expected. Nor is he filling arenas as he once did in true Conner4Real fashion.
What’s a fading superstar to do? Hire a hip opening act to breathe life into the tour.
Samberg is locked in as Conner from the opening closeup. And yet he brings such a charitable presence to the role it strips some of the acid from the gags.
The script does more of the same.
The best parodies reveal the darker side of human nature, “Popstar” is more interested in going easy on Conner’s selfish streak. And that means the third act tension is almost nonexistent. The laughs also retreat to let the predictable resolution occur.
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Samberg, in full collaboration with Lonely Islanders Jorma Taccone and Akiva Schaffer, still delivers some killer observations.
Social media oversharing.
Rampaging egos pretending to be humble.
And, in the film’s most subversive bit, Conner sings his support for gay marriage while insisting he’s straight. Again. And again.
FAST FACT: Jimmy Fallon loved Lonely Island’s digital shorts so much he introduced the comedy team to “Saturday Night Live” guru Lorne Michaels.
“Popstar” would be worth your while if only for its assault on TMZ’s odious TV show. Will Arnett plays Harvey Levin, the TMZ puppetmaster chortling with his lackeys about their brand of celebrity stalking.
The scenes are brief but blistering. That take no prisoners approach could have been used elsewhere.
— Conner4Real (@conner4real) May 22, 2016
Anytime a “Saturday Night Live” strikes out on his or her own film, the critical reaction is, “it’s just a sketch blown up to 90 minutes.”
That’s not the case here. The film holds together as a character portrait, albeit one about a pop sensation singing a tacky song name-checking Osama bin Laden.
Samberg and his cohorts build some narrative momentum, particularly as Conner embraces his opening act solely for pragmatic reasons.
So why are so many mega-stars eager to mock their own self-importance? Self awareness is in short supply these days. At least Justin Timberlake shrewdly plays a character, not himself, with his cheeky cameo.
It’s delicious irony that one of the best cameos belongs to Ringo Starr, a superstar who embodies nothing remotely close to what Conner peddles to his fans.
Starr probably laughed the loudest between takes. He earned it.
The film’s musical parodies are a saucy mix of slick hip hop and superstar posturing. The lyrics are dutifully daffy, but never as inspired as those Spinal Tap blokes. The on-stage theatrics fare better.Try keeping a straight face as Conner mugs a hologram Adam Levine.
It’s clear Team Lonely Island has been taking dutiful notes on our cultural times. Or, they’ve been devouring every issue of US Weekly for the past decade.
Watch “Popstar” and know you’ll never see today’s music sensations the same way again. And that’s probably healthy.