Until this week I had never even heard of The Lonely Island. Now I know that they are a “comedy” group composed of Andy Samberg, Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone. I wish I could go back to that blissful ignorance. I have now had the experience of seeing them in Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping. I chose this out of a completely unenticing week of mainstream releases. I chose it because it ran 86 minutes — about 30 minutes shorter than either of the other two movies opening. This was a mistake on my part. The last time I spent 86 minutes that lasted this long, dental work was involved. In its favor, I didn’t have to write a sizable check after the ordeal was over. Otherwise … well, I was left with a prime candidate for my worst movie of 2016.
Granted, humor is probably more subjective than anything. I once sat through the Marx Brothers in Duck Soup with a girl who laughed once during the whole film — the laugh, she said, was because it was “so stupid.” (This relationship was doomed to grotesque and horrible failure.) That was in 1973. More recently, we can look at the fact that Popstar has 74 positive (some downright gushingly so) and only 21 negative reviews on Rotten Tomatoes as I write this. Much like my girlfriend of 40-odd (and some downright peculiar) years ago with Duck Soup, I laughed once at Popstar. A day later I have no idea what I laughed at. (The idea of a gay pride song where the singer keeps stressing that he isn’t gay is amusing. The execution isn’t.)
What we have here is a feature-length movie stretched out of a sketch’s worth of material that might have been on a weaker episode of Saturday Night Live. It is meant to be a satire on the current music scene with the charisma-challenged Mr. Samberg playing an invincibly stupid, endlessly arrogant, self-absorbed pop star. In other words, he’s more or less playing Justin Bieber. The problem with this is it’s virtually impossible to caricature Bieber, who’s a caricature to begin with. So this unfocused mess of a movie mostly is comfortable to replicate Bieber’s more famous escapades with uninspired twists and a raft of random gags. (In the world of modern comedy, things are considered funny just by being random, I think.) Throw in some SNL alumni and other “guest stars” as filler.
Some enthusiasts like comparing Popstar to This Is Spinal Tap (1984). Well, maybe, but the truth is it has more in common with the TV film The Rutles: All You Need Is Cash (1978), which also had SNL underpinnings and SNL guest stars (John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, Gilda Radner, Bill Murray). But this Beatles parody was the brainchild of Eric Idle (from Monty Python) and Neil Innes (from the Bonzo Dog Band). The difference was All You Need Is Cash is actually funny and clever. More, it was made by people who loved the Beatles and knew their story (and music) forward and backward. There is no sense of this in Popstar, which merely comes across like tabloid headline retreads — with a puking turtle added. I’m sure there’s an audience for it. It isn’t me. Rated R for some graphic nudity, language throughout, sexual content and drug use.