By Bill Wine

By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — If only this musical mockumentary were as funny as its subtitle.

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But Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping does indeed stop well short of the mark, struggling to deliver in long form as impactfully as its creators have in the short form.

The threesome responsible are writer, producer (along with Judd Apatow), and star Andy Samberg — familiar from his years on television’s Saturday Night Live and the sitcom, Brooklyn Nine-Nine – and his two childhood friends and collaborators on SNL Digital Shorts, Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone, who co-wrote and shared directing duties.

The three comprise the comedy trio, The Lonely Island, and each of the co-directors has directed feature films before – Schaffer on Hot Rod, starring Samberg, and The Watch; Taccone on MacGruber.

But The Lonely Island has specialized in short featurettes and music videos.

This, on the other hand, is of feature length, yet its narrative spine is so thin, it’s barely there.

 

(2 stars out of 4)

(2 stars out of 4)

 

The premise: Hip-hop star Conner4Real – the name a showbiz variation of his real name, Conner Friel — a former boy band member played by Samberg, is for a time a world-famous recording artist, with a vast following and dozens of people on his personal payroll.

The life of a pop star certainly has its ups and downs, but Conner4Real has seen little that wasn’t up.

Until, that is, his second solo album, titled ConnQuest, bombs, and he embarks on a struggle to regain and retain his celebrity status.

Is he so desperate that he might reunite with his old boy band, the Style Boyz, which he’s now considering?

The three primary collaborators can say, as they have done in interviews, that there’s no single spoofing target here, that it’s all pop performers they’re taking off on.

But it’s difficult not to be put in mind of Justin Bieber – who appears momentarily — and the music documentary devoted to him with the astonishingly similar title of Justin Bieber: Never Say Never.

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And how often could parallel titles like this occur as pure coincidence?

In a word: never.

Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping is bursting at the seams with cameos appearances, some of them playing characters and some playing themselves.

Contributing fictional supporting characters are co-director Schaffer, co-director Taccone, Sarah Silverman, Tim Meadows, Imogen Poots, Bill Hader, Joan Cusack, Maya Rudoph, Will Arnett, Pink, Will Forte, and Emma Stone.

And showing up as themselves are celebs including Adam Levine, Mariah Carey, Snoop Dogg, Jimmy Fallon, Simon Cowell, Seal, Martin Sheen, and Carrie Underwood.

If the character Samberg is playing seems familiar, it may be because he premiered the role by appearing as Conner4Real in an SNL Digital Short on Saturday Night Live earlier this season.

Popstar aspires to register as legitimately funny while offering music that seems authentic, a combination achieved in such music mockumentaries as director Rob Reiner’s This is Spinal Tap and director Jake Kasdan’s Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story.

On the latter score, the film almost works. But as far as concocting a narrative that holds up over the course of an hour-and-a-half, let’s just say that the stretch marks are showing despite the film’s technical polish.

And if there were more than a precious few scattered laughs, perhaps the lack of a strong emotional underpinning wouldn’t be as bothersome. But we wait in vain for Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping to do more than just momentarily divert us.

Chances are you could find several effective and funny satirical shots taken at the music industry and carve the film up into a bunch of entertaining seven-minute sketches.

But what remains is the unmistakable feeling that watching it is akin to watching a string of a dozen or so SNL Digital Shorts one after the other, and all sufficiently impressive and watchable, without expecting or getting the kind of continuity or emotional resonance we expect in a feature film.

As it stands, it’s a long, 2-stars-out-of-4 slog to a minimal payoff. Which is why you catch yourself, despite a chuckle or two, wondering at times whether Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping will never stop.

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