It might sound like a crazy statement to make, but here I am to say it: The Lonely Island are modern comedy auteurs. Not only is the group, consisting of former SNL cast member Andy Samberg along with his friends/fellow former SNL writers Jorma Taccone and Akiva Schaffer, great at comedic timing, but they have also shown success in writing, directing, and most notably their musical career. Their 2007 film “Hot Rod,” released less than a year after the group made it huge with their song collaboration with Justin Timberlake “Dick in a Box,” was a critical and financial disappointment upon opening. The movie, however, has since received a larger-than-expected cult following amongst teenagers and college kids, as well as fans of “Saturday Night Live” in general.
In the years since those two staples in the trio’s careers, they have gone on their individual paths to star in and direct many television episodes and films while still finding time to work together and collaborate on music. Their most popular songs of recent memory include “I’m on a Boat” featuring T-Pain, “YOLO” featuring Adam Levine and Kendrick Lamar, and “I Just Had Sex” featuring Akon. Now, the group has another movie that they’ve come out with entitled “Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping.” The movie is a musical mockumentary about an artist’s uprise, downfall, and eventual re-uprise in the music industry. The artist at the center of it all is Conner4Real, a Justin Bieber-esque singer who ended up going solo and made it big.
The movie was co-written by and stars the three members of the band, with the directors of the film being Taccone and Schaffer, respectively. Both men have had experience directing films before, with Taccone co-writing and directing another SNL spin-off film, 2010’s “MacGruber,” and Schaffer directing both “Hot Rod” and 2012’s “The Watch.” Just the idea of The Lonely Island making a mockumentary had me high-over-heels excited. Seeing the initial red-band trailer upon its release got me even more enthusiastic about what the group had in store for audiences. Well in short, I enjoyed the movie overall. It wasn’t as amazing or hilarious as I was hoping it would be, but surely enough, the film provided enough laughs, surprise cameos, catchy music, and engaging story elements to keep me invested in the movie throughout its 86-minute run time.
The biggest problem that this film faces is the fact that the movie feels stretched out and somewhat bloated with unnecessary material. Had this film not been theatrically released and instead was a 45-50 minute HBO special, I believe this whole story would have been tighter, sharper, and much funnier than it was. I mention HBO mainly because Andy Samberg co-starred with “Game of Thrones” star Kit Harington in the sports mockumentary “7 Days in Hell,” released just last year. That special ran for 45 minutes and managed to tell a funny-enough story with sharp and hilarious humor in such a short amount of time. That’s not to say the movie wasn’t funny, because when jokes hit, my god did they hit. I just feel that all of this would have worked better as a shorter HBO special. Hell, imagine if HBO and Universal had teamed up to release “7 Days in Hell” and a 45-50 minute cut of “Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping” theatrically as a double-bill with fake trailers and exclusive music videos spliced in between them, a la what “Grindhouse” did. That, to me, would have made for a much funnier and more satisfying theatrical release than what we overall got here.
I do have to give credit to Samberg, Taccone, and Schaffer for managing to get people on board with this and managing to get this onto the big screen. As mentioned before, I believe the trio are modern comedy auteurs thanks to my love for “Hot Rod” and for their many digital shorts. These guys undoubtedly knew what they wanted to have in this movie, and it seems like they managed to get everything they wanted to make their vision become a reality. Their humor isn’t for everyone, that’s for sure, but it’s great to see three young and talented friends become so successful. The writing isn’t always the strongest, but it’s apparent that they know how to tell a story and follow the usual beats that make comedies work. Taccone and Schaffer have good eyes for direction and know what makes a movie more than just that. It’s even more impressive since the three wrote all entirely new songs for the film, some of which I haven’t been able to stop listening to. “I’m So Humble,” Conner’s pop duet with Adam Levine in which he discusses how humble a person he is, and “Equal Rights,” his anthem featuring P!nk for Gay Rights while profoundly reminding listeners he’s not gay, immediately come to mind. These songs, along with several others, have been stuck in my head since seeing the film, so much so that I had to get the soundtrack for myself. Even if you don’t like the movie as a whole, it’s hard to deny how smart and fun these songs are.
Probably the biggest treat anyone could get from watching this movie is seeing the countless amounts of celebrities randomly show up. Whether they’re playing themselves or are parts of Conner’s endless supply of employees, the number of recognizable people that pop up sometimes seems endless. There are some that are to be expected considering their relationship with Samberg and the guys, such as the previously mentioned Adam Levine. Then there are others that come completely out of nowhere and are just funny and surprising to see. I’m not going to spoil any of them here, but needless to say, I guarantee that at least two of the cameos in this movie will surprise you in some way.
I’m not going to go out and say that “Popstar” is the funniest or even one of, the funniest movies of 2016, but I can’t deny that I always found entertainment with what was going on in the life of Conner4Real. Some of the shenanigans that he encountered had me laughing very hard, but those moments were scarcely scattered throughout the movie and put in between moments that had either light laughs, mild chuckles, or just silence in general. “Popstar” won’t appeal to everyone, which was apparent to me when my father ended up leaving the theater over halfway through the film due to his hatred towards it. Then again, his stomach was getting upset, but that could have been caused either by the movie or the dressing he put on his salad during lunch. Regardless, he didn’t like it at all, and I can understand why.
Compared to other music-based comedies, I’d recommend “This is Spinal Tap” or “Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story” much more over this easily. As a satire, it works on lots of levels, and the blatant mockery of both Justin Bieber and the music industry was entertaining, to say the least. There are much funnier films that 2016 has had to offer thus far in my eyes, but if you’re a fan of The Lonely Island and mockumentaries in general, then I’d recommend checking out “Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping.” It has enough jokes, catchy songs, and fun characters to keep you engaged and entertained for the hour and a half it lasts.