‘Popstar: Never STop Never Stopping’ opens Friday in Durango

by Richard Roeper

As was the case with the incomparable “This Is Spinal Tap” and the equally sublime “A Mighty Wind,” The Lonely Island trio’s satire “Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping” clearly has a genuine admiration and affection for the very subject it hilariously skewers.

It’s funny because it gets it right without ever being too mean-spirited.

Friends since junior high school and zeitgeist favorites online and on TV for the last decade, The Lonely Island guys Andy Samberg, Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone have collaborated on a pitch-perfect take satirizing modern-day pop stardom: the sometimes ridiculous but often infectious music dominating the scene in the 21st century, the voracious celebrity media culture and the vacuous nature of some of our most worshipped showbiz stars.

Schaffer and Taccone co-directed. Samberg, Schaffer and Taccone wrote the screenplay. And the three star as the boyhood friends who struck boy-band gold as the Style Boyz, taking the world by storm with catchy hits such as “The Donkey Roll” and “Karate Guy.”

Shot in faux-documentary style, “Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping” introduces us to the Style Boyz through “archival footage,” including YouTube-style video of baby Conner (Samberg) killing it on the drums at the age of 1 (!), and early performances by the boys when they had yet to hit puberty. (These are the first of many, many scenes and jokes with close parallels to Bieber’s career ups and downs, though “Popstar” also has fun poking fun at all-white boy bands such 98 Degrees and ‘NSync, not to mention more than a dozen celebrities, many of whom appear as themselves, poking fun at themselves. Good for you, Mariah Carey, Adam Levine, Carrie Underwood, Usher, Snoop Dogg, et al.)

The thing about Samberg and his buddies is they’re talented enough and charismatic enough performers to believably portray pop stars – and while their songs and their videos are deliberately, insanely dopey, the material isn’t all that different from some of the real songs that have hit No. 1 and some of the actual videos and performances that dominate YouTube and the endless parade of music awards shows.

Front and center, carrying the film, is Samberg in what is easily the most winning film performance of his career. Yes, Conner is a dim-bulb fool with an out-of-control ego, but there’s something endearing and sweet and likably pathetic about the guy – and his heart is in the right place, if only he can remember exactly where he placed it.

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